Number-crunching – sales figures

Number-crunching time, as US tax deadline approaches. I thought it might be useful to post sales figures for my books. The numbers here are the total sales from when the book first went on sale to the end of the calendar year cited. Which means you can get the per year figures for 2009 and 2010 with a bit of subtracting, if you’re so inclined.

from 1st day on sale until end of 2008 2009 2010
Black Leather Rose 774 922 995
Buildup 1: Mindscan 1304 1466 1554
Buildup 2: Pulling Strings 711 857 918
Dolphin Dreams 1739 2151 2352
Lord and Master 1510 1839 2057
L&M 2: Taking Work Home 648 1020 1201
Promises To Keep 1002 1119 1200
Spindrift 659 801 858
Spindrift 2: Ship to Shore 419 480 510

Other items of interest — sales direct from the publisher’s website have dropped to a trickle, which is not surprising as all of these books have been out for at least two years – the last release I had was in August 2008, before The Day Job Ate My Brain. But over the last 18 months I keep seeing new sales coming in as they add titles to reseller’s lists. The really interesting one is that Dolphin Dreams is doing well on Amazon, and having had three months’ figures now (Jan-March), it has gone up each month. I’ll be interested to see if that’s a fluke, or if it reflects increasing Kindle ownership.


Just putting my December royalty figures into the spread sheet — the statement arrived just before Christmas but this is the first chance I’ve had to do more than glance at it. Time to throw out a few numbers that might be of interest.

My best-selling book is still Dolphin Dreams, which has now reached 2151 copies sold since it went on sale. Yes, very much small press numbers, but not bad going for a small press book. For the curious, around a thousand of those came from direct sales from the publisher’s website before it went made available through the distributors, and about 3/4 of the total number since release is from direct sales. For distributor sales, Fictionwise has around double the numbers going through All Romance eBooks.

Second best is the first Lord and Master book, which has sold 1829 copies. Again, around 3/4 through the publisher website, but this time three times as many from Fictionwise as from ARe.

That’s the general pattern on my books — major share is through Loose Id, with the largest chunk of distributor sales coming through Fictionwise, but a significant fraction of distributor sales through ARe, and a tiny trickle through others. (My ebook titles aren’t on Amazon, so I have nothing to report one way or the other there.) That’s one author, through one publisher; other authors report different experiences.

The second Lord and Master book has now sold 1020 copies, almost as many as the first book had after the same number of months on release. That’s pretty pleasing for a sequel, as it suggests that a lot of people liked the first one.

Promises To Keep is the oldest of my titles which are still in print at Loose Id, having been released for Halloween 2004. Yes, more than five years ago, not long after Loose Id opened. It still sells half a dozen copies a month — not a great deal of money, but rather gratifying nevertheless that people are still interested in buying an old backlist title.

A couple of points to note here: a) my books typically sell 500-1500 copies in the initial 2 year contract, b) that’s a two year contract taking only the rights the publisher has a reasonable chance of using, not a life-of-copyright contract grabbing all rights, c) I get a detailed monthly royalty statement, on time, that breaks down exactly which titles sold through which venues, and how much money I got for each venue and title. Now, obviously I’d like to be in mass market paperback and looking at numbers with another zero or two on the end — but even in the small press market, there are good and bad publishers. Anyone with a zero fewer on the end of their sales numbers should be asking themselves if there are better options. Ditto if your publisher claims that it’s too difficult to provide detailed royalty statements so that you know what they owe you. As for life-of-copyright, that’s not automatically bad, but they had better be offering something worthwhile in return.

But… even someone who can sell ebooks consistently at that level can have the occasional “sink without trace” title. I’ve got one that barely scraped past 200 after two years. I have an idea as to why, but no hard evidence. There are no guarantees in this game, just ways to improve the odds in your favour.

Back to work on the accounts. One of the joys of wandering from country to country is that one ends up having to file tax returns in more than one of them, and they have different rules. Blech…

{Note: all numbers in this assume me not cocking up entering the data into 1-2-3…)

Writing: Scalzi talks about self-publishing, so I do as well

Scalzi has a good post up about going with a publisher versus self-publishing. One of the things he addresses is the idea that self-publishing is good because you get to keep 100% of the money. As he explains in very clear fashion, this is simply not true. There are costs involved in putting out a professional product and getting it sold to the public at large, and if you’re the publisher, you’ll be paying them.

This is a conversation I get to have every so often. I’m epublished, and a lot of people think that epublishing must have very low costs because you don’t have to pay to print, store and ship physical copies. Thus, the suggestion goes, I should self-publish and get 100% of the cover price instead of 35%.

Well, no. Because the cost of creating and handling the physical item is a relatively small fraction of the cost of bringing that book to market. Good cover art costs money. Good editing costs money. These and other things are necessary if you want people to look at the first book, and then to buy more books. Running a commercial website costs money as well.

And then there’s something that you can’t measure in cold hard cash, but that is vitally important — reputation. My publisher has a good reputation in its own little niche. Readers know that they can try a new author, and have a decent chance of getting a book they’ll enjoy. A book that has had someone other than the author’s friends look at it and say, “Yes, this is competently written,” and then work on it with the author to make it even better. That’s why I can put out my next book through them and reasonably expect it to sell a thousand or so copies over the course of the initial two year contract, without having to spend large amounts of my own time and money trying to get people to look at the book.

A thousand copies doesn’t sound much by the standards of the mass market paperback market, but it is still well above the average sales for a self-published book (around 75-150 copies for print books from the major POD vanity presses, by their own publicly stated figures on titles and total copies). Maybe I could do better than average, especially as I have an established fanbase now. But really, I’d rather take my 35% on 1000 copies and let my publisher do the hard work of publishing it. I’ve *done* my stint at being a publisher, back in my zine days, and while I got a lot of enjoyment out of it I’d rather spend my time writing. If I feel the urge to scratch that itch again, it’ll be on a project that doesn’t fit the commercial needs of my publisher.