I promised my followers a full disclosure of how much I earned by self-publishing books so here it is - full-frontal nudity in numbers. This will, hopefully, help the emerging writers better estimate their chances for financial success. It's important, though, that you know how to interpret this data so we'll take a look at the basics - the things that to the largest degree affect your book's potential for sales. But first, here are THE REAL numbers!
My 2-year earnings
Time frame: May 2017 - July 2019
Books published (ebook + paperback edition): 6
Copies sold: 2,200
Copies given away for free: 1,200
Top author rank on Amazon: #19,386
Top paid book rank Kindle: #1,229
Top free book rank Kindle: #1,090
NET: -$400 (average - $67 per book)
The rise of my author rank on Amazon from my first book (May 2017) to now (July 2019) - Amazon Author Central
My author rank on Amazon
OK, so when you look at the numbers above you might be tempted to think that I'm doing something wrong. I don't blame you for that but that's just not the case. I'm actually doing exceptionally well - especially if you also take into consideration that I'm doing this on a laughably small budget and that I stubbornly stick with less popular and even unpopular genres.
Just look at the chart above - my author rank on Amazon has been steadily rising since I first self-published and reached the highest point this month at #19,386. There are literally millions of authors on Amazon so that places me in the top 1%. Surely, I must be doing something right. This, however, also tells you how incredibly hard it is to start making money by self-publishing books.
All the things that affect the sales
Not all books are the same and so isn't their potential for sales. Some books will simply be much harder to sell and no amount of expensive courses, professional services, and money will change that. The main question thus is - do you publish in a popular genre?
The popularity of the genre is directly related to the potential for commercial success of any book. Some genres, such as literary fiction (my first book) are very hard to sell and even more so if you are an unknown self-published author on a tiny budget, with no connections and small or no following.
One look at Amazon's Kindle Storyteller contest will tell you everything you need to know about genres and how important they are in terms of sales. Amazon listed the new entries in this year's contest in no more than three rows - the first one is devoted to "Crime, Thriller & Mystery," the second one to "Romance," and the third one to everything else under "Popular entries."
As you probably know, there are many more genres than the ones listed above and there is no such thing as the "Popular entries" genre. "Popular" in this case only means any book that sells well in any other than the above-mentioned genres. As you also probably know, Amazon is all about the money, so if money and sales is what you are after, that's where you'll find it - in "Crime, Thriller & Mystery" and "Romance." Fantasy and YA, btw, also sell well but obviously not that well.
The number of published books (in a series)
Most successful self-published writers started to make any serious money only after they published over 10 books. As a rule, these books were written in popular genres and published in a series. Mass-production and series represent the basic ingredients for commercial success in self-publishing business.
Even if you don't care for popular genres, publishing books in a series can increase the sales and is also a lot more cost-efficient. Below is the all-time sales chart for my books. The four arrows in the middle (the second, third, fourth, and fifth) mark the launches of new releases in my Self-Publishing Made Easy series. As you can see, the more books in the series I published, the more overall sales that generated.
No pay, no play. Paid promotion represents another cornerstone of commercial success. Actually, don't expect to sell anything if you don't invest in promotion. The competition is getting fiercer by the day and you'll have to invest much more because of it. How much? Well, that depends on the genre and how competitive it is as well as your talent for marketing.
Even if you are talented, though, you'll likely have to test different options and different version of ads and approaches. There is no one-size fit all approach that would work equally well for all books. It also helps if you have a massive and loyal following but it takes years to build that.
OK, so this is where everything can crash even if you write good books and promote them well. This is where you have to walk through a minefield and where packs of trolls roam free and can destroy your books and self-publishing career before you even see as much as a return on investment. Which is what is happening to me as I write this.
And I have to say, I was just about to give up anyway since publishing books of quality takes way too much effort and investment of time and money while the return is dubious and the whole project highly risky even without any additional perils. Now add to the challenge the risk of running into trolls who habitually destroy book ratings for fun and twisted pleasure.
As I write this, new 1-star reviews have been published for my book and they are effectively tanking it. So maybe these trolls were just what I needed to make me see that trying to publish good books nowadays is a waste of time, money, and, in some cases, akin to throwing pearls before swine. It's just way to easy for a pack of review trolls to destroy all the hard work in a matter of days.
Someone said to me that I should just write another book as if writing books is like taking a piss. It's not, or at least it's not for me. All of my books are a result of years of work, experience, sharing and caring for knowledge, thoughts, and ideas I hoped would be of some help to others. I'm not a kind of writer who'd be capable of churning out a new book every month. I don't believe that's how books of quality and depth can be created and I'm not interested in any other kind.
Now, back to this trolling thing - it started after I couldn't get enough reviews from the real readers of my books (check the results of the book review survey). So not being able to get enough reviews forced me into signing up with a couple of book review services where you make your book available for free in hope of getting some reviews from their readers in return.
The service that brought this lynch upon my book was Booksprout. Some writers might have had a good experience with it but it all but destroyed my book's chances. Of all those who downloaded my book there for free, the only person who reviewed it trashed it with his 1-star review and then sent a pack of trolls after me on the top of it.
So on the one hand you have the real readers who, for the most part, don't take the time/don't know what to say/only review absolutely exceptional books (in short, they just don't leave reviews) and on the other the review services where freeloaders and trolls prey on their next victim.
It took me years to write my books, it takes a troll pack 5 minutes to wreak havoc and tank any book's rating. So should we care? Well, the real question is, do you, as a reader, care enough to support writers by at least posting a rating or a short review. If you don't care enough to do that, maybe I just won't care to publish any more books either.