PDA

View Full Version : Is self-publishing really a long game?



kaitie
09-05-2012, 10:12 PM
Okay, so I've been following numbers, and I'm wondering if people can offer experiences in this regard. Something I've often seen touted as an advantage of self-publishing is that it's a long-game. You aren't limited to however long the publisher keeps your book in print, and as such you can build sales over time. There is obviously some truth to this advantage, too. If a book is out of print and rereleased, even if it sells only a few copies, those are a few copies more than it would have sold being out of print, right?

I know that in trade publishing, sales are usually going to occur in the first couple of months (or less?) and then taper off (hence eventually going out of print), but this has been assumed to be due at least in part to the fact that books are taken off the shelves relatively early. What I'm seeing now for a lot of people, though, seems to be a similar thing: big sales early on that then taper off over time.

So my questions:

1) Have you noticed this for your sales, or have you picked up or held steady over time?

2) If you've released more than one book, was this true for all the books?

3) Did you get a boost by releasing new books?

4) If you've been at this long enough, does this seem to be more seasonal, in that certain months are just bad for sales and then sales pick back up at other times?

merrihiatt
09-05-2012, 11:39 PM
I've been self-publishing almost one year, so don't have several years of history yet. I find the highest sales in the first few months, then it tapers. Over the summer I saw an up and down fluctuation from month to month. I sell more of my titles that are in a series/trilogy and that have been offered free at least once. I get a boost from new releases. Some titles are steadier than others.

James D. Macdonald
09-06-2012, 12:07 AM
Yes, self-published e-text or not, the majority of the sales are in the first few months.

Also: As time goes on, you're competing with everyone's backlist. Your books never go out of print, but neither do anyone else's.

The future I'm seeing is one where a milliion people sell twenty books each.

kaitie
09-06-2012, 12:31 AM
Ugh. Nathan Bransford said something along those lines a couple of years ago. I found it just as depressing then. :(

CheyElizabeth
09-06-2012, 12:41 AM
I self pubbed a book under a pen name on Amazon four and a half months ago... I just did it for fun as I liked the story but didn't want it to be my debut. It started off selling small, like 1 copy a day,and has progressed to 20 copies per day.

I don't promote at all, as I don't associate with this fake pen name. So, unlike the consensus here, mine is seeing more sales with each month.

Calle Jay
09-06-2012, 01:11 AM
For me, I do have a bump after new releases (15-25% overall), but my sales have climbed steadily (about 10-15% each month, and then another 10-15% the next month, etc. etc.) since first publishing in Oct. 2011.

The only months where I didn't have an actual gain were June & July (bad, bad months!).

I then put The Blood King as free at Smashwords/BN and it was price matched at Amazon around the end of July. Since then sales have continued to climb, again about 15%-20% overall per month.

I did go back and add excerpts from the two newest novels to the end of The Blood King with direct buy links to Amazon. And I'm starting to see a significant rise in sales on those novels--I'm hypothesizing that it's because people are finally getting around to reading the freebie Blood King they downloaded when it first went price-matched (overall, I've had 12K downloads of The Blood King--a 15,000 word novella).

My one lone romantic suspense is not doing nearly as well, though it is selling around the same amount of copies each month. But I attribute this to being in a different genre, and it being the only one released in the series so far.

As for seasonal? Other than summer numbers being lower than colder months, I've not noticed any real pattern to my sales (and I watch closely), other than that I tend to sell better on Sat/Sun/Mon than any other time during the week.

Norman D Gutter
09-06-2012, 02:34 AM
So far, 19 months into self-publishing, my sales aren't really increasing. I had a spike in June, the aftermath of a Kindle Select promotion. That spike has continue since, though decreasing each month.

I just did a spreadsheet showing sales per item published. It's not a pretty picture. Hope this pastes in at the right size for readability and site rules.

Sales per title—the yellow line—are not really increasing, except for the spike.

http://davidatodd.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Sales-per-Title-2012-08-medium-size.jpg
Not really readable. See the originals at my blog (http://davidatodd.com/2012/09/02/august-2012-book-sales/).

MMcDonald64
09-06-2012, 07:13 AM
I've been self published for over two years now. It took me about six months to sell a thousand books. My sales have been on an upward trend for most of those months. Ive sold quote a few books and a new release increases overall sales for me.

Katie Elle
09-06-2012, 03:27 PM
I would say it's a long game in terms of building a larger portfolio that will built onto itself. From what I've seen, the big blockbuster is not how "self-publishing" works. Instead it's a slow burn that sells a larger catalog.

So publishing a single book, it is not going to sell more copies two years from now than it does now. Publishing a single book, then publishing another ten over the next two years and it will sell more then than it did at debut.

It's also possible if you can't write or you're a bad businessperson at "self-publishing" that you can write a dozen books and not have any of them sell. Though you'll probably make more than if you had a stack of rejection letters in the bottom drawer.

MMcDonald64
09-06-2012, 05:21 PM
I would say it's a long game in terms of building a larger portfolio that will built onto itself. From what I've seen, the big blockbuster is not how "self-publishing" works. Instead it's a slow burn that sells a larger catalog.

So publishing a single book, it is not going to sell more copies two years from now than it does now. Publishing a single book, then publishing another ten over the next two years and that first one will probably sell more then than it did at debut.

It's also possible if you can't write or you're a bad businessperson at "self-publishing" that you can write a dozen books and not have any of them sell. Though you'll probably make more than if you had a stack of rejection letters in the bottom drawer.

Yeah, that's pretty much what I wanted to say but I was typing on my Kindle Fire last night and I stink at touchscreen typing so I kept my reply super short.

There are a few authors who have one big hit, for example, "The Mill River Recluse" or Lieske's "She's Not What She Seems". Both were 99 cents and had great timing, great covers and were good stories, from what I've heard. (I read Lieske's but not the other book, so I'm just going by reviews there.).

Victorine Lieske now has other books out as well, and while I don't know how they are doing, I assume she's doing okay, but it was quite awhile after the first was a hit that her second book came out.

Bottom line, most of us need at least two books out and the more books you have, the better the chances of someone discovering your books. It's not about quantity over quality or anything like that. You still have to do the best that you can do, but I know people who are writing machines--they can sit down and pump out 2k in an hour and it's good. That's not me though. I start writing, realize I need to know a little bit more about something, look it up, then come back to writing. At the end of an hour, I'm lucky to have 800 words.

bearilou
09-06-2012, 05:28 PM
Since I'm new in the game (and I'm short stories not novels) ...

:nothing

Asha Leu
09-06-2012, 06:03 PM
Publishing a single book, then publishing another ten over the next two years

:Wha:

I realize you're just using a hypothetical example, but this particular self-publishing strategy gets brought up a lot and I can't imagine how such a prolific release schedule could be at all feasible for the vast majority of self-published authors (hell, the vast majority of authors, period). Writing a book, even a short one, takes a long bloody time.

I mean, I'm sure there are a few writers out there both prolific and talented enough too put out three-four readable books each year, but the workload would be insane. If a writer doesn't have the talent and experience to pull that off (and I'd argue that very few first-time authors would, no matter how skilled), all they'd end up with is a ton of dreadful books noone wants to buy.

bearilou
09-06-2012, 06:11 PM
Writing a book, even a short one, takes a long bloody time.

Define long bloody time. :)


I mean, I'm sure there are a few writers out there both prolific and talented enough too put out three-four readable books each year, but the workload would be insane. If a writer doesn't have the talent and experience to pull that off (and I'd argue that very few first-time authors would, no matter how skilled), all they'd end up with is a ton of dreadful books noone wants to buy.

If someone can put out 3-4 in a year, it works out to 6-8 over two.

Some writers elsewhere in AW have gone on record that they can produce clean-first-draft novels in a very short amount of time so I can see that they could conceivably put out 5 a year. Depends on a lot of factors, time probably being a large one. Writing 4k/day for 250 days in a year can net someone ~11 90K-word-books per year. :Shrug:

Katallina
09-06-2012, 07:04 PM
I think the speed considerations is one of the things that scares me most about publishing in general. I am a snail. I started my novel in April last year and finished the rough draft in mid July. But I then let it sit until March and only now I am almost ready for betas.

In trade publishing there are deadlines. (Horrors, lol!) and in self publishing, you need to build a catalog of books / a platform / whatever and it seems you need to be able to do this quickly or should have it set up so that you can at least 'pretend' that you can do it quickly. (read: have enough stuff ahead that you'll be able to replace what you put out and keep that consistent.)

Now, I do have the good fortune of primarily writing and releasing my stories for my own enjoyment. That does not exempt me from making certain they are the absolute best I can make them, just so we're clear. But it does take away the ticking time bomb pressure.

Anyway, I haven't had my tea yet so hopefully I'm making sense. :P

Katie Elle
09-06-2012, 09:48 PM
I mean, I'm sure there are a few writers out there both prolific and talented enough too put out three-four readable books each year, but the workload would be insane. If a writer doesn't have the talent and experience to pull that off (and I'd argue that very few first-time authors would, no matter how skilled), all they'd end up with is a ton of dreadful books noone wants to buy.

If you look at "self-published" ebooks, you'll see they're a good deal shorter than your average blockbuster. Aim at wordcounts in the 30-50k range, mix in a serial, few shorter works, even short stories.

"Self-publishing" isn't just "trade publishing" that you do yourself. It's an entirely different paradigm that has more in common with magazine publishing or the pulp paperbacks of the 50s than it does with modern "trade publishing."

WeaselFire
09-06-2012, 10:10 PM
My experience is skewed, and it covers ebook as well as print. In my case, the self published works had limited audiences in both size and time frames. A number were based on specific software and versions that changed after a year to 18 months, so my back list is pretty much unmarketable after two years. And if they sold out their print run, I wasn't going to invest more money for reprints. All of these sold well for a few months then tapered off and died.

So I guess my experience shows the answer to this depends on the book, and maybe even the author. Some work doesn't lend itself to eternal availability. A series, on the other hand, might hold up 10-20 years down the road as new readers find a current installment and hunt down the older ones.

Jeff

valeriec80
09-07-2012, 01:22 AM
1) Have you noticed this for your sales, or have you picked up or held steady over time?

After first publishing, there was nothing. (This was in 2009). At the end of 2010, right around when a lot of people started having the first big successes, my sales started a steady, slow climb which capped out and fell around July of 2011. During that time, I went from making $60 a month to $3500 a month, and I believed that it would just keep growing. It didn't.

Since then, I've had a few peaks, and they've always coincided with getting the first book in my series into the top 50 of the Free List. Usually, that means a nice spike in sales for the other books in the series which lasts roughly two months before settling down.

Now, my sales have never fallen back down to where they were at the beginning. My low months now are 400-600 copies sold. That low bit seems to be relatively steady, but I believe that's got something to with the current Amazon algorithms, which seem to weight sales history higher than they used to. As long as you stay at a certain visibility level, you sell more books. When your ranking falls, your visibility falls, you sell less books... It's a vicious cycle. :)

2) If you've released more than one book, was this true for all the books?

Absolutely not. I've got over 25 titles (I think 17 of them are novels, but I'm not sure of the exact count.) Some sell 2 copies a month. Some sell 200.

What I can observe is this:
-Books in my most popular series sell the best and continue to do so.
-Books in a series of any kind seem to sell better than standalones.
-Novels sell better than short stories or novellas
-Certain genres do better than others. Horror is a particularly tough sell.

3) Did you get a boost by releasing new books?

Only if they are in a series with a strong following.

4) If you've been at this long enough, does this seem to be more seasonal, in that certain months are just bad for sales and then sales pick back up at other times?

This is a ridiculous myth. Summer is not necessarily bad for books. I had an amazing summer last year. (This year, not so much.) People say this stuff to make themselves feel better because it's crazy-making to realize how little control you have over anything.

I will say that January does seem to usually show a pick-up, but as more and more people adopt ereaders, that will probably stop happening, because people will stop getting them for Christmas.

MMcDonald64
09-07-2012, 02:43 AM
If you look at "self-published" ebooks, you'll see they're a good deal shorter than your average blockbuster. Aim at wordcounts in the 30-50k range, mix in a serial, few shorter works, even short stories.

That is not true as a general rule. It's a very mixed bag. What has happened is that authors are realizing that some readers like shorter works and so some are writing to that niche, but there are still plenty of books that are the same length as trade published books. My three are novel length between 87-93,000 words each and fit right into the same guidelines as trade published thrillers.


"Self-publishing" isn't just "trade publishing" that you do yourself. It's an entirely different paradigm that has more in common with magazine publishing or the pulp paperbacks of the 50s than it does with modern "trade publishing."

I'm not really sure what you mean by that.

annetpfeffer
09-07-2012, 02:36 PM
My first book, Any Other Night (previously title Loving Emily), sold for a period of time and then tailed out to practically nothing about eight months after publication.

Then I published my second book The Wedding Cake Girl, whose sales in the first month were double the sales of Any Other Night over its entire lifetime. The side benefit was that Any Other Night started selling again and is doing well.

So, from my experience, I don't think that books necessarily have finite lives, or at least, not such short ones as some people say. My first book was completely rejuvenated by publication of the second book, and I'm hoping the next one will help the first two in the same way.

MmeGuillotine
09-07-2012, 04:52 PM
I've been self publishing for eighteen months and have three books out at the moment, which have had a total of around 19,000 sales now and rising. I found that sales for my first book really took off when my second book was released about six months later and then sales for both rose again when my third book was released a couple of months after that.

Like MMcDonald64, my books are all around 90,000 words in length. I write historical fiction so don't think they can be compared to 'pulp fiction', which sounds rather more luridly exciting it must be said, although I do have a tendency to kill characters off if that counts? ;)

Twizzle
09-09-2012, 06:01 PM
1) Have you noticed this for your sales, or have you picked up or held steady over time?

I've been doing this for yrs now. Going on 3, I believe. And I'll say upfront as a disclaimer that I have multiple psuedos and don't do any promotion. Don't see the point. But I've been quite happy w the income and sales, esp over time...

Anyway, it's been universally the same. Sales start very slow and build slowly until they hit a certain point. Sometimes at this point they snowball. You hit a list, you get a nice boom, but sales inevitably seem to grow consistent regardless.

And when I say consistent I mean there's definitely seasons-spring seems slow, the holidays are spectacular-but on the whole the year's avg sales are about the same year to year, starting in the second yr. (As I said, the first yr tends to be a growing period.)

2) If you've released more than one book, was this true for all the books?

Yep. It's been true for each. The only thing that has differed has been the snowballing. Not all have hit a list or done well like that. But they've all become consistent. They're like buckets of water. They all self-level eventually.

3) Did you get a boost by releasing new books?

Sure. And by offering something free or lowering prices. Or changing a cover, tweaking a synopsis. But it's just a temporary boost.

I will say, however, those who mentioned having a variety of lengths and genres-yes. Yes, I do, and I find it works well. Some are looking for short stories, some collections, some novellas, some full-length novels. I try to have as much variety as possible.

Also, different books have done much better in some countries than others.

4) If you've been at this long enough, does this seem to be more seasonal, in that certain months are just bad for sales and then sales pick back up at other times?

See #1. It definitely is. But on avg sales are the same yr to yr. Some books are higher, some lower, but I can count on them being steady. Can't explain it-theoretically it should decrease. But it's nice, pretty passive, steady income.

My own theories? People give up. It's a marathon, not a race, and lots drop out or don't run it well. The key seems to be building a very long list, regularly adding varied content, and having it available in lots of places for a long, long time. Repeat under a new psuedo. But that's just been my exp. Others' may vary.

bearilou
09-09-2012, 06:31 PM
My own theories? People give up. It's a marathon, not a race, and lots drop out or don't run it well. The key seems to be building a very long list, regularly adding varied content, and having it available in lots of places for a long, long time. Repeat under a new psuedo. But that's just been my exp. Others' may vary.

Everything you say here, I've read elsewhere as well. This is advice that seems to stand the test of time.

Arpeggio
09-14-2012, 02:08 AM
I'm pleased and feeling positive because the reason nobody is buying my books is because nobody knows they exist.

One is selling however and I see a correlation between that and how it is known to exist. It's on page 1 - 2 of its keyword search on Amazon.co.uk (last month 7 copies).

On Amazon.com it's on roughly page 10 for the same keywords and sells maybe 1 every 2 months.

The other 3 don't sell at all because they are in more saturated markets so they're on about page 10 for Amazon.co.uk relevant searches and for Amazon.com even further back no doubt.

I am of course going to promote and market, Amazon and other retailers are only a conduit for sales. Only print at moment, not really got into eBooks yet.

Yes it's a long term thing, promoting is a big part I think.

Old Hack
09-15-2012, 08:54 AM
My first book, Any Other Night (previously title Loving Emily), sold for a period of time and then tailed out to practically nothing about eight months after publication.

Why did you change its title, Anne? And do you think that doing so resulted in a new wave of sales for you?

I'm interested, because you seem to have spent a long time promoting that book under its original title, and changing its title would surely have resulted in a lot of your efforts being wasted?


I've been self publishing for eighteen months and have three books out at the moment, which have had a total of around 19,000 sales now and rising. I found that sales for my first book really took off when my second book was released about six months later and then sales for both rose again when my third book was released a couple of months after that.

Those are good numbers, Madame. You should be proud of yourself and your books.

merrihiatt
09-15-2012, 09:05 AM
Anne, glad you're seeing an upswing in sales in the first book now that the second book is out, and that you're seeing a good response to that second book already.

Way to go, MmeGuillotine!

PublishMyself
09-16-2012, 05:10 PM
I would agree. I think for most of us, the 1st book self-published, will be an education, especially at first.

Having a portfolio of work gives you more "real estate" to cross promote too. You can run your free days, for example, and use your forward to promote other books - or if you are promoting a digital copy - you may also have a POD version. Some people may choose to purchase this to keep or give to a friend without an e-reader.

Unless you already have a huge network or some sort of name recognition, it is unlikely you will break out of the starting gate as a record breaker.

But look at one cliche - Stephen King - after he got famous, his older books published under a pen name - started getting a lot more sales as he outed himself.


I would say it's a long game in terms of building a larger portfolio that will built onto itself. From what I've seen, the big blockbuster is not how "self-publishing" works. Instead it's a slow burn that sells a larger catalog.

So publishing a single book, it is not going to sell more copies two years from now than it does now. Publishing a single book, then publishing another ten over the next two years and it will sell more then than it did at debut.

It's also possible if you can't write or you're a bad businessperson at "self-publishing" that you can write a dozen books and not have any of them sell. Though you'll probably make more than if you had a stack of rejection letters in the bottom drawer.