Authoring Milestones and Other Numbers

I have a big spreadsheet where I keep track of all the numbers that define my fledgling career as an author. I pull reports from Amazon and other places periodically to keep it all up to date. Today I did that and I found I had passed two milestones:

  • 500 books sold
  • $1000 in royalties

(For context, my first novel was published about 18 months ago. Since then I’ve added a free short story, a $0.99 novella, and a second novel. A third novel will be launched at the end of this month.)

By “sold” I mean someone actually paid money for the book. I have a short story that I give away for free, and I recently let Smashwords run a free promo of my novella. I’m not counting those. (That would add just over 600 more to the total.)

And by royalties, I mean the gross royalties I’ve received. Other than $15 here and there for a stock photo or a print proof, I don’t have any other costs to pay back, because I do my own editing (with a lot of help from author friends), promotion, etc. In round numbers that $1000 breaks down to:

  • $300 in the bank
  • $100 in stock photos and proof copies
  • $300 in Twitter ads that generated $200 in royalties
  • $100 in promotions that were probably worth it:
    • Goodreads Giveaways to make my book look popular
    • Amazon Giveaways to build a following on Amazon
    • A Fussy Librarian promo of the free short story Attractions to reach new readers
  • $200 in “learning experiences”:
    • BookBub ads don’t work
    • Only US/UK/CA people will buy my books
    • Buying ads to promote $0.99 sales is pointless

There are some other interesting numbers in that spreadsheet. In terms of units sold, my channels break down:

  • Print: 9%
  • Kindle Sales: 69%
  • Kindle Unlimited Reads: 18%
  • Signed Copies: 4%

However, the royalties tell a slightly different story:

  • Print: 9%
  • Kindle Sales: 62%
  • Kindle Unlimited Reads: 17%
  • Signed copies: 12%

Signed copies are a pain, of course, but the margins are a lot better because Amazon isn’t getting a cut. I charge $18 which includes shipping in the US. That’s only $5 more than my paperback goes for on Amazon, and probably the same net cost to the buyer unless they have Amazon Prime. (Send me a Twitter DM if you want a signed copy of any of my novels.)

Another interesting metric on that spreadsheet is my sell-through rate. That is, what percentage of people who read Entropy go on to read Duality. It’s a little tricky because I’m mostly interested in people who just read Entropy going on to read Duality, not people who read Entropy a long time ago. So what I do is look at gross sales of each, but only starting a couple months after Duality had been released. Using that approach, my sell-through rate is 32% and that number has been consistent for the past few months. So a third of the people who buy the first novel choose to read the sequel. I have no idea if that’s good or bad by industry standards, but that’s my number.

One last number that I like to watch is my average net royalty. This is the $300 that actually made it into my bank account divided by the 500 books I sold, so 60 cents. (Actually it’s 64 cents right now when you use the actual numbers, not the rounded off ones.) This has been steadily dropping since I launched, which makes sense because I have lowered my prices over time and a lot of my Entropy sales are a direct result of Twitter ads, which I try to keep at break-even, but sometimes don’t quite make it. The “learning experiences” I mentioned above that didn’t sell any books also drag this down. Without those it would be about a buck.

My next novel launches in a couple weeks, and it’ll be interesting to watch how it impacts everything. Even though it is the third and final of the series, the new book actually makes a good stand-alone read. So unlike Duality, which I couldn’t market on its own, I am going to do some marketing of Gravity by itself. If it works, that could generate sell-through back to the earlier books, as people want to get to know the characters better. Time will tell.

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