Friday, April 12, 2013

Author Know Thy Business: Self-Publishing By The Numbers, An Informal Survey

By: Marie Force
NYT, USA Today and Wall Street Journal Bestseller, thanks to self-publishing

I'd intended to write about the importance of social media to authors this week, but a discussion we had on the Self-Pub Loop that I moderate changed my plans for this post, so we'll do social media next week. (Incidentally, the loop is open to all, so click on the link to join.)

We got to talking about how many authors are making a living on their writing now that they can self-publish and how many of them may not necessarily be "name" authors who everyone is familiar with. Hugh Howey, the acclaimed self-published author of Wool, wrote a great piece for Salon about how success stories like his are not THE STORY of self-publishing. According to Howey, the unknown authors who aren't selling enough to be in the headlines but who are selling more than enough to support themselves are THE STORY of this revolution. And what a great story it is! Who cares about acclaim when you can quit your day job to follow your passion and make enough to pay the bills, too? A few years ago, such a concept was reserved for the top 1 or 2 percent of authors and was limited to pipe dreams and somedays for the rest of us. Now someday is here, and look at us go!

The conversation on the loop led to me post an informal survey to get an idea of how our members and their self-publishing friends are really doing. I didn't ask people to give dollar amounts, but rather just their number of sales in 2010, 2011, 2012 and so far in 2013. I asked them to list their most successful book in 2012 and how many copies it sold. At the outset, I want to say that this survey was informal. There is nothing scientific about it, but it does provide an interesting snapshot of how self-published authors are really doing.

To give context to the numbers, I wanted to also provide a guide to what the most popular price points translate to in actual dollars. Using Amazon's conversion chart, here it is:

0.99 (35 percent royalty): $0.35 per sale
1.99 (35 percent royalty): $0.70 per sale
2.99 (70 percent royalty): $2.04 per sale
3.99 (70 percent royalty): $2.74 per sale
4.99 (70 percent royalty): $3.44 per sale

While I didn't ask authors to list their most common price point (which I will add to the survey next time), I thought the breakdown above would be enlightening to the authors out there who might be waffling about whether they ought to try their hand at self-publishing. If you are thinking about whether or not you should dip your toe into the revolutionary waters, ask yourself these questions: When was the last time I made $3.44 on the sale of one book? When was the last time I made even $2.04 on the sale of one book?

Those who like to poo-poo the self-publishing revolution (often those who are most threatened by our success), love to offer quotes such as "The average self-published author sells about 57 copies of each book." Really? Hmmm.... Then there are those who say it's impossible to build a self-published platform unless you have been traditionally published in the past. If you believe that, I direct you to author Liliana Hart's results below. She sold 441,069 in 2012 without ever having been traditionally published. It can be done. It's BEING done all the time. 

If you think this path is not for you, that's totally fine and no one should do something that doesn't feel right to them. But if you feel like you could and should be making more than you are on your writing, read on. The numbers shared by your colleagues are telling, and they cover the full range—from no success to marginal success to runaway success. Regardless of where they fall on that spectrum, many authors who wrote to me to report their numbers expressed exhilaration at having control over their own destinies. That, in and of itself, is priceless.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from authors who participated in the survey:


"I've been supporting myself solely through my self-publishing income since mid-2011." —Catherine Gayle, author of Regency-set historical romance

"I've been traditionally published for four years and my income comes primarily from my self-published titles, NOT my traditionally published titles." —Elisabeth Naughton, NYT and USA Today bestselling author of romantic suspense and paranormal romance

"Since self-publishing, I have paid more in federal income taxes than I made in 10 years of New York publishing 10 titles." —Cheryl Bolen, author of English-set historicals and romantic suspense

"Thank God for self-publishing." —Kathryn Shay, author of contemporary romance

"I have what I consider to be a modest indie career at this time…yet last year (my first year self-publishing) I made four times the money Penguin paid me in my best year with them." —Lauren Royal, author of historical romance

"Using a freebie as a marketing tool is the reason I have made 75k in three months this year." —Juliana Stone, author of contemporary romance

I hope to add to this survey in the future, perhaps on a quarterly basis, to keep a finger on the pulse of how we are doing. I thank everyone who was brave enough to share their numbers, and I applaud ALL of you, no matter where you fall on the so-called spectrum of success, for taking control of your own careers. Remember, success if often measured in the chances we take rather than those we don't take, so give yourself a pat on the back for being willing to take a risk in the first place. 

The survey results, in no particular order....


Anonymous
Primary Genre: Paranormal romance
Total number of self-published titles: 17 English, 21 in foreign languages


Total number of self-published sales in 2010: 29,000 units


Total number of self-published sales in 2011: 290,000 units


Total number of self-published sales in 2012: 270,000 units


Total number of self-published sales so far in 2013: Jan-Mar 80,000 units


Most successful book in 2012 and how many sold: approx. 35,000 units


MJ Fredrick, also writing as Emma Jay
Erotic and non-erotic romance
Total number of self-published titles: 12
Total number of self-published sales in 2010:
Total number of self-published sales in 2011: 36,569
Total number of self-published sales in 2012: 46,413
Total number of self-published sales so far in 2013:12,069
Most successful book in 2012 and how many sold: Eye of the Beholder, with19,798 sales.

Stephanie Rowe
Paranormal Romance
Total number of self-published titles: 14


Total number of self-published sales in 2010: 0


Total number of self-published sales in 2011: 61


Total number of self-published sales in 2012: 104,727


Total number of self-published sales so far in 2013: 35,000


Most successful book in 2012 and how many sold: Darkness Seduced (Order of the Blade #2) sold 21,000


In my opinion, four things made my sales take off:
1. When I put up my very first books, they got downloads immediately, which I attribute to the fact that I had already published more than 20 books with traditional publishers.
2. I released 12 books in 2012—one per month. In the two months when I didn’t have a full-length novel to release, I released a novella so that I would still have momentum.
3. My best-selling series (the Order of the Blade) took off when I released the first three books in back-to-back-to-back months.
4. Things took off further when I put the first book of the Order of the Blade on perma-free status. Free has done very good things for me.

Anthea Lawson (also writing fantasy as Anthea Sharp)
Historical romance
Total number of self-published titles: 11
Total number of self-published sales in 2010: 0
Total number of self-published sales in 2011: 3,126
Total number of self-published sales in 2012: 11,796
Total number of self-published sales so far in 2013: 840
Most successful book in 2012 and how many sold: Five Wicked Kisses (a short story) 4,517

Don't be afraid to write and publish short fiction! Just price it right (not too high, especially in Romance).

Zoe Dawson
Romantic comedy with light mystery
Total number of self-published titles: 2
Total number of self-published sales in 2010: 0
Total number of self-published sales in 2011:  0
Total number of self-published sales in 2012: 56
Total number of self-published sales so far in 2013: 742
Most successful book in 2012 and how many sold: Leashed 56 copies

Jessica McBrayer
Paranormal Romance
Total number of self-published titles: 4 
Total number of self-published sales in 2010: 0
Total number of self-published sales in 2011: 12*
Total number of self-published sales in 2012: 1496*
Total number of self-published sales so far in 2013: 1550*
Most successful book in 2012 and how many sold: Stained  1048*
* These are only my Amazon numbers.

Publishing a series has helped me immensely. Also having Amazon price match my novella for free really set my sales soaring.

Courtney Milan
Historical romance
Total number of self-published titles:  7
Total number of self-published sales in 2010: 0
Total number of self-published sales in 2011:  100,970
Total number of self-published sales in 2012: 167,503
Total number of self-published sales so far in 2013: 105,904
Most successful book in 2012 and how many sold:  If you go by number sold, I sold 55,050 copies of The Governess Affair in 2012. Since this was a 99-cent novella, though, the book that made me the most income in 2012 was The Duchess War, which I released on December 7, 2012, and (again, this is 2012 numbers only—so we are talking barely three weeks of sales) sold 25,855 copies.
At this point in 2013, I've sold more than twice as many copies of that one book—and in fact, when I looked at this list of the bestselling ebooks of 2012, not one single historical romance from the reporting publishers sold as many copies in 2012 as I have sold in the 4 months that that book has been out.
Of course, this isn't an apples to apples comparison—I'm including 3 months in 2013—but some of those books were out for 7 or 8 months to my 4. It makes me think that there's nothing a publisher can do for my digital sales that I can't do better myself.
I don't write as quickly as some people do, unfortunately, although I often fantasize about being able to do so. I've found that writing shorter works is a good way to make sure that I have new content out on a regular basis. More importantly, people say to write fast, and if you can, that's good, more power to you...

But if you can't write fast (I'm at the two full-length books a year club—so I'm not as fast as some, not as slow as others), I believe that the number of books you have out, and the number of books that you're actively managing as part of your portfolio that you use to continually draw in new readers, is more important than the speed that you put them out at. Someone who writes fast will reach that magic threshold of number of books faster. It might take a slower writer more time to get to the same place, but you can still get there.

Anonymous
Romance, Historical and Contemporary
Total number of self-published titles: 6
Total number of self-published sales in 2010: n/a
Total number of self-published sales in 2011: (began December) 66
Total number of self-published sales in 2012: 3,682
Total number of self-published sales so far in 2013: 173
Most successful book in 2012 and how many sold: A Gentleman's Daughter: Her Choice, 1,896


Cherise Kelley
Non-fiction
Total number of self-published titles: 3
Total number of self-published sales in 2010: NA
Total number of self-published sales in 2011: NA
Total number of self-published sales in 2012: 65
Total number of self-published sales so far in 2013: 64
Most successful book in 2012 and how many sold: High School Substitute Teacher's Guide: YOU CAN DO THIS!  13 eBooks at $7.99 and 29 paperbacks at $16.99

I first published in August of 2012.

Shawn Inmon
Non-fiction
Total number of self-published titles: 1
Total number of self-published sales in 2010: NA
Total number of self-published sales in 2011: NA
Total number of self-published sales in 2012: 5,000, Feels Like The First Time
Total number of self-published sales so far in 2013:

Liliana Hart
Hot Romantic Suspense and Romantic Mystery
Total number of self-published titles:  21
Total number of self-published sales in 2010: 0
Total number of self-published sales in 2011:  76,527
Total number of self-published sales in 2012: 441,069
Total number of self-published sales so far in 2013: 131,721 (Jan-March)
Most successful book in 2012 and how many sold: Cade: A MacKenzie Novel 76,246 sold, 2nd most was Whiskey Rebellion 61,916
I wasn't traditionally published before I put out my first books, so I started with zero fan base and built from there. 

Zoe Cannon
YA
Total number of self-published titles:  1
Total number of self-published sales in 2010: 0
Total number of self-published sales in 2011:  0
Total number of self-published sales in 2012: 64 (started publishing in late October 2012)
Total number of self-published sales so far in 2013: 285
Most successful book in 2012 and how many sold: The Torturer’s Daughter (64 sales)

My sales really picked up around the beginning of the new year; I went from selling a copy every few days to selling at least one copy most days. I don’t know whether it was the post-Christmas bump, the Goodreads giveaway I had running through late December and most of January, or some other factor I’m not even aware of.
Also, I only have one book out so far, and it’s been out for less than six months, so my sales numbers don’t really mean the same thing as those of someone who has been doing this for longer and has more books out.

Lynn LaFleur
Erotic Romance
Total number of self-published titles:  5
Total number of self-published sales in 2010: 0 (first book out in 2011)
Total number of self-published sales in 2011: 8,478
Total number of self-published sales in 2012: 18,000
Total number of self-published sales so far in 2013: 1,464 (through March)
Most successful book in 2012 and how many sold: What are Friends For? 11,977

Amy Gamet
Romantic suspense
Total number of self-published titles: 2
Total number of self-published sales in 2010: 0
Total number of self-published sales in 2011: 0
Total number of self-published sales in 2012: 865
Total number of self-published sales so far in 2013: 4634
Most successful book in 2012 and how many sold: Meant for Her, 465

Nicole Leckenby
(Little Liam Series)
Non-fiction – children’s books
Total number of self-published titles: 2
Total number of self-published sales in 2010:
Total number of self-published sales in 2011:
Total number of self-published sales in 2012:
Total number of self-published sales so far in 2013: 5 each book (just put online 3 weeks ago)
I wanted to experiment with the children’s books – I have a few other bigger books in the works but wanted to see how this process worked…. It’s a very easy process… I think the hardest part is that all the promotion of the book lands in the author’s lap… which then affects sales… I have nothing bad to say about the process it’s been fun doing this and will do more in the very near future.

PJ Sharon
Contemporary YA Romance
Release dates: Heaven is for Heroes 9/24/11, ON THIN ICE 12/15/11, SAVAGE CINDERELLA 3/24/12, and WANING MOON 9/24/12
Total number of self-published titles: 4
Total number of self-published sales in 2010: 0
Total number of self-published sales in 2011: 641
Total number of self-published sales in 2012: 5,135
Total number of self-published sales so far in 2013: 380 (first quarter sales)
Most successful book in 2012 and how many sold: ON THIN ICE sold 1,907 copies in 2012
  
Like most authors, I’m finding that balancing promotion and writing the next book is daunting. If I averaged out my hourly wage, I would have to quit today, but I keep trying to focus on the long term and stick with it, hoping that eventually, something will catch on. My books all have favorable reviews so I don’t feel that my lagging sales have as much to do with quality of my product as the flooded market place and difficulty reaching my target audience. Last year’s first and second quarter, my sales were steadily building thanks to the KDP Select program, but by June, when Amazon changed their algorithms, sales took a fast and hard dive and have not recovered since.

Elizabeth Bailey
Historical romance (sweet)
Total number of self-published titles: 7 (of which 5 historical romance)
Total number of self-published sales in 2010:
Total number of self-published sales in 2011:
Total number of self-published sales in 2012: 133
Total number of self-published sales so far in 2013: 178
Most successful book in 2012 and how many sold: Mademoiselle at Arms 47 (first out)

One problem is too many sites expect success with reviews and ratings before they will list, which reduces opportunities to get them - chicken and egg.

Catherine Gayle
Regency-set historical romance
Total number of self-published titles: 16, including novels, novellas, short stories, and collections/box sets
Total number of self-published sales in 2010: 0
Total number of self-published sales in 2011: 42,850
Total number of self-published sales in 2012: 63,749
Total number of self-published sales so far in 2013: 11,156
Most successful book in 2012 and how many sold: Twice a Rake, 23,469
I fully expect my 2013 numbers to increase in the next month or so, when I have a new release. All the big jumps in my sales tend to happen when new releases are available, but I also have steady sales throughout the year. I've been supporting myself solely through my self-publishing income since mid-2011.

Elisabeth Naughton
Romantic Suspense and Paranormal
Total number of self-published titles: 12
Total number of self-published sales in 2010: 0
Total number of self-published sales in 2011: 0
Total number of self-published sales in 2012: 102,179
Total number of self-published sales so far in 2013: Jan-March 2013: 370,059
Most successful book in 2012 and how many sold: MARKED - 30,673 copies

I've been traditionally published for four years and my income comes primarily from my self-published titles, NOT my traditionally published titles.

Anonymous
Regency and Gothic, both sweet
Total number of self-published titles:  4
Total number of self-published sales in 2010: 0
Total number of self-published sales in 2011:  0
Total number of self-published sales in 2012: 27
Total number of self-published sales so far in 2013: 6
Most successful book in 2012 and how many sold: Regency romance - 16
I'm still working!

Moira Rogers/Kit Rocha
Various subgenres of PNR; dystopian erotica
Total number of self-published titles:  17/2
Total number of self-published sales in 2010: 0/0
Total number of self-published sales in 2011:  0/0
Total number of self-published sales in 2012:  56,486/7,333
Total number of self-published sales so far in 2013: 14,970/9,769
Most successful book in 2012 and how many sold: Calling the Bluff
(by Moira Rogers), 9,015 copies

Cheryl Bolen
Romance mainly English-set historical, also romantic suspense
Total number of self-published titles: 18


Total number of self-published sales in 2010:


Total number of self-published sales in 2011: 118,000


Total number of self-published sales in 2012: 163,000


Total number of self-published sales so far in 2013: Estimated 45,500


Most successful book in 2012 and how many sold: A Lady By Chance sold an estimated 32,000 at 99 cents. It's a full novel first published in mass market paperback in 2000.


Since self-publishing, I have paid more in federal income taxes than I made in 10 years of New York publishing 10 titles.

Kathryn Shay
Contemporary romance
Total number of self-published titles: 36, put out over the three and a half years years


Total number of self-published sales in 2010: (starting in October) 1,213 
Total number of self-published sales in 2011: 36,781 
Total number of self-published sales in 2012: 62,273 
Total number of self-published sales so far in 2013: 31,156  

Most successful book in 2012 and how many sold: 9,104 of $.99 book; 8,444 of $6.99


1. I didn’t include free promotions.
2. I didn’t include HEART STEALERS, a four-book anthology with 4 authors, which came out in February 2013 (and we made the USA Today bestseller list for 3 weeks).

Thank God for self-publishing.

Linda Acaster
HistRom
Total number of self-published titles:  6 
Total number of self-published sales in 2010: 150
Total number of self-published sales in 2011:  875
Total number of self-published sales in 2012: 997
Total number of self-published sales so far in 2013: 189
Most successful book in 2012 and how many sold: Native American HistRom "Beneath The Shining Mountains" 780

Not all titles have been up from the start.
Amazon sales far outweigh anything from Smashwords (the distributor I use as I'm from the UK)
Learned lessons 1: series rather than standalones are needed to gain momentum
Learned lessons 2: promotion is an ongoing and time-consuming necessity, but new titles in the same genre help enormously

Elaine Levine
Romantic Suspense
Total number of self-published titles: 2
Total number of self-published sales in 2010: 0
Total number of self-published sales in 2011: 0
Total number of self-published sales in 2012: 21,492
Total number of self-published sales so far in 2013:13,466
Most successful book in 2012 and how many sold: The Edge of Courage 18,145

My 1st SP book is priced at $0.99, my second at $2.99. Prior to publishing these 2 RS books, I had published 4 historical westerns traditionally.

Lauren Royal
Total number of self-published titles: 13 (9 novels, 1 novella, 3 boxed sets)
Total number of self-published sales in 2010: 0
Total number of self-published sales in 2011: 69 (my first title was uploaded Dec 24, 2011)
Total number of self-published sales in 2012: 40,588 paid (I have my novella on perma-free, so I'm not counting it here, but that would add another 87,753)
Total number of self-published sales so far in 2013: 14,516 paid (plus 14,791 free)
Most successful book in 2012 and how many sold: Violet, 7877 paid

I have what I consider to be a modest indie career at this time…yet last year (my first year self-publishing) I made four times the money Penguin paid me in my best year with them. What a difference it is to make a real living as a writer after 12 years in this business! In addition, for the first time I feel there's potential for me to break out. Not that I'm actually expecting it to happen—I'm well aware it would take the exact right combination of smart moves and good luck—but I feel there's a possibility, something I never felt while traditionally published. I was never given big enough print runs to hit a list, and my books went out of print way too quickly. Now my books are out there forever, which means anything could happen. I have never felt this optimistic about my writing career before. It's fun! :-)

Carrie Ann Ryan
Paranormal Romance
Total number of self-published titles: 14
Total number of self-published sales in 2010: 0
Total number of self-published sales in 2011: 7710 (I published in Dec 2011)
Total number of self-published sales in 2012: 198,910
Total number of self-published sales so far in 2013: 85,129
Most successful book in 2012 and how many sold: An Alpha's Path 52,147

I will say that as each month has progressed, the new release sales have increased so my 2013 already looks vastly different from 2012.

Laura Hunsaker
Paranormal romance
Total number of self-published titles: 1
Total number of self-published sales in 2010: 0
Total number of self-published sales in 2011:  0
Total number of self-published sales in 2012: I released my first self-pub in Oct, so all sales are from Oct-Dec 2012: 221 sales, 1 return
Total number of self-published sales so far in 2013: 193
Most successful book in 2012 and how many sold: Just the one, Highlander Reborn
I've found that while my sales are steady, that the more I promo, the more I sell, obviously, but I walk that line of not wanting to spam my readers. Finding new ways of promoting my book other than just tweeting "buy my book" is hard, but fun. I like to offer my book free for a short time on Smashwords, and I've found that my sales on other venues go up that same month as well. Maybe not everyone wants to buy from Smashwords? Not sure.
It's an adventure, and I'm continuing on with it. I have another self-published book coming out in a few months :)

LL Muir
Time Travel Romance (Regency comes second, then YA and children's)
Total number of self-published titles: 8
Total number of self-published sales in 2010: 0
Total number of self-published sales in 2011: 323
Total number of self-published sales in 2012: 13,853
Total number of self-published sales so far in 2013: 4,910
Most successful book in 2012 and how many sold: GOING BACK FOR ROMEO sold 4,711

Juliana Stone

Contemporary Romance
Total number of self-published titles:  3 (1 in late 2012, 2 in 2013)
Total number of self-published sales in 2010:
Total number of self-published sales in 2011:
Total number of self-published sales in 2012: 1,678
Total number of self-published sales so far in 2013: 19,427
Most successful book in 2012 and how many sold:  Offside, only title up, sold 1,678 (3 months)
I've learned by listening and paying attention to the good people who share info on some of the loops I follow, including this one.  I learned that using a 'freebie' was invaluable in pushing sales toward the second book in my series. For that reason alone I sold 9,000 copies of book 2 on ITunes in February. Using a freebie as a marketing tool is the reason I have made 75k in three months this year.

Lisa Mondello
Contemporary Romance but also do romantic suspense
Total number of self-published titles: 11
Total number of self-published sales in 2010: 0
Total number of self-published sales in 2011: 12,014
Total number of self-published sales in 2012: 124,234*
Total number of self-published sales so far in 2013: 46,203*
Most successful book in 2012 and how many sold: Most titles sold Her Heart for the Asking 32,004 copies sold, Most profitable His Heart for the Trusting 15,463 copies sold, earned over $43,000
* My best guess based on my rough spreadsheet. Not 100 percent accurate.
Free works. Series work. Select advertisement works and has helped my books hit the USA Today Bestseller's list twice as a self-published author.

Meredith Bond
Regency-set paranormal romance 
Total number of self-published titles:  four individual and one group anthology (numbers not included here)
Total number of self-published sales in 2010: None (hadn’t published then)
Total number of self-published sales in 2011:  23 (one book published – but it was a writing text book which I use in my writing classes)
Total number of self-published sales in 2012: 259 (the text book & a romance)
Total number of self-published sales so far in 2013: 140 (three novels and the text book)
Most successful book in 2012 and how many sold: Magic In The Storm (the romance) – 190 sold

I think I’m doing pretty well for an unknown (I traditionally published four Regency romances with Kensington, but so long ago that no one remembers me or them, so I essentially started out my self-publishing career from scratch). I’m not doing fabulously, but not too too bad, and I expect that my numbers will grow the more books I publish.

And since I wouldn't ask others to share their numbers without being willing to share mine...

Marie Force
Contemporary Romance
Total number of self-published titles: 16
Total number of self-published sales in 2010: 2,052
Total number of self-published sales in 2011: 159,653
Total number of self-published sales in 2012: 646,908
Total number of self-published sales so far in 2013: 225,000
Most successful book in 2012 and how many sold: Fool for Love, book 2 in the McCarthys of Gansett Island Series, 111,921, as a result of the free offering of book 1, Maid for Love


My self-publishing story goes something like this: I made very low four figures for my traditionally published books in 2010, six figures from my self-pubs in 2011 and seven figures from my self-pubs in 2012. This year is on pace to outdo last year by June or July, with fewer new books planned. Thankfully (I say now--every day, in fact) Maid for Love was rejected by EVERY romance publisher in the business, and book 2 sold 111,921 copies last year at $4.99 a piece. 3.44 x 111,921 = $385,008.24. For one book, in one year. I can live on that.

Anyone who wishes to share their numbers in the comments section is welcome to do so. This is about sharing information and offering encouragement to each other. Thanks again to everyone who participated. 

What do you think of the results and what do they say to you about the state of self-publishing?


95 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing, Marie and everyone! For someone thinking about self-pubbing in the next year, the numbers, hints, and advice are incredibly valuable. I appreciate the time you took to put this together, and everyone's willingness to divulge their info.

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    1. Glad you found it useful, Gwen. If you aren't already a member of the self-pub loop, you might find it helpful as you make decisions about the way forward.

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  2. Thanks so much for doing this Marie. It's crazy to hear all the misconceptions of self publishing out there. This blog is a real eye-opener.

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    1. Thanks Lisa! I agree, the numbers are astonishing at all levels! Thanks for your contributions!

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  3. Thanks Marie for gathering and sharing such great information! I didn't have a chance to include my numbers in the survey, but since January 2011, I've sold over 2.8 million self published ebooks, which is mind boggling to me. I'm a big believer, obviously, in the self publishing world. And I'm so glad to see so many authors doing well, too!

    A lot of publishing publications have been slow or reluctant to report the real boom of this industry. One of my self published books hit #1 on the New York Times back in July of 2011, and no one wanted to acknowledge that that was even possible. Now, many, many self-published titles are hitting the bestseller lists. In my opinion, it's never been a better time to be a writer - so many wonderful opportunities out there.

    And if you haven't joined the great self publishing loop that Marie started - you should. Tons of valuable info for everyone, whether you're just getting started or have been doing this for awhile!

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    1. Barbara, the publications may not want to acknowledge your singular achievement, but I, for one, bow down to your awesomeness! I love that you put a self-published book on the NYT list at no. 1. Your numbers are amazing, and I'm thrilled to have you as a participant on the loop. Thank you for being a trailblazer for all of us.

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    2. Hitting #1 is amazing, Barbara. It's wonderful that authors like you, Marie, Bella Andre and Hugh Howie "have" done so well because it proved that readers will support good stories regardless of who publishes the books. Kudos to all of you for your accomplishments and thank you for being so open about your information. I'm on the self publish loop, thanks to Cynthia Eden.

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  4. Thanks for collecting this info, Marie!

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    1. It was fun, Cheryl. Thanks for coming by!

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  5. Thanks for gathering this information. I never had a chance to respond to your request, but I will say this. My self-pubbed books have earned me more than I ever made with one of the big 6 publishers. I'm so thrilled and hope everyone's success continues. Barbara Freethy...you're a goddess and we all look up to you.

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  6. Marie, thanks for all of the info. I didn't hear about this in time to include figures, but I'll try to get in there next time! I think it benefits all writers to know what's going on in the publishing business. I love that authors can share sales figures and number of units sold whereas before authors had no idea how many books authors were selling. While I was a struggling writer for 20 years, I only heard gloom and doom...don't quit your day job was the most popular mantra. Now I hear wonderful stories every day about authors paying for their children's college, paying off houses, traveling...all because of self-publishing. Whether you make $5,000 a year or $500,000 a year, it sure beats having a bunch of novels rotting away under the bed! Congratulations, Barbara!! Those are amazing numbers.

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    1. Thanks Theresa! Totally agree with all the wonderful stories and how great it is that hard-working authors are finally making what they should be making. Congrats on all your success too!

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  7. Thank you so much for sharing. This post is much needed inspiration for some of us with a body of work that is controlled by our publisher. Starting over is both exhilarating and terrifying. Today--thanks to you--I'm focusing on the possibilities.

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    1. That's wonderful to hear, Debra! I hope you will continue to focus on the possibilites. There are amazing opportunities out there for authors these days! Best of luck to you!

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  8. You are my freakin' heroine, Marie!!! Thanks so much for posting this and it seems this article is more motivation for my best friend to finally take the plunge and self-publish her books. I've been nagging her for over a year. LOL!

    Hugs to you!
    Arial ;)

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    1. Thanks Arial! That's very nice of you to say! I hope your friend takes the plunge and has great success!

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  9. Thanks so much for sharing. My contemporary is almost finished and I'm still debating what to do with it. Leaning more toward self-publishing every day.

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    1. It's a tough decision, which is one reason why I wanted to get this info out there so that people who are trying to decide which way to go know what's possible with self-publishing. Best of luck!

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  10. I've printed it (2 copies). One for my writing desk, every time that I want to face plank onto my keyboard and one for my pocket book, every time I wonder if I'm going to have to find a day job.

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    1. Michelle, your comment made me giggle. Thanks for coming by and keep writing--you won't need that day job!

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  11. I love seeing the upward trend of EVERY author listed. Each year the numbers just get better. Write good stories, have professional editing, covers, and blurbs, and then be patient and persevere!

    I think a lot of people hear about the insta-successes and the huge numbers some authors have, and get discouraged. This is an important snapshot of a number of authors who are ALL growing their writing careers. Thanks for this, Marie. :)

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    1. The upward trend for everyone was the one thing that was easy to see in the data, Anthea. I love that too! And you are so right about this business being a marathon, not a spring, regardless of which way you choose to publish.

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  12. Thank you so much for sharing these actual numbers! And I downloaded Maid for Love last night and read the entire book before turning out the lights. LOVED it! I'll be buying the rest as a treat for myself to enjoy once this school year ends.

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    1. Thanks so much Gillian! So glad you loved Maid for Love and thank you for getting the series.

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  13. I was too late to give Marie my numbers (deadline fever), but I will say that I started in late Feb 2011, and am now approaching 400,000 self-pubbbed e-books sold (on Kindle and Nook; if I add in Smashwords, Apple, Sony, Kobo, and All Romance Ebooks, I'm probably over the 400,000 mark).

    I was timid about self-pubbing at first. I decided to test the waters by putting up backlist books of an obscure series which had tanked, under a little-known pen name. What did I have to lose?

    That was Feb 2011. By the end of 2011 I'd sold more than 100,000 books and wondered why I'd waited so long!

    I now have about half backlist and half new books self-pubbed, and am writing more, and I'm loving every day of it!

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    1. Congratulations, Jenn. Those numbers are awesome. Mega congrats!

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  14. Thanks for posting this, Marie! I heard too late to join in, but will try to next time. In the meantime:

    I'm an unknown writer with no trad publishing background. I've five titles, and have sold over 250,000 copies so far. My highest selling title sold almost 60,000 copies in 2012. To my delight and astonishment, I'm now able to be a full-time writer, which is something I thought would remain a dream.

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    1. Congrats Shayne! Those are amazing numbers!

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  15. This was a great post and one that puts it in perspective. I'd love to post my totals, but I haven't put them on a spreadsheet yet from all the venues because I'm spending my time getting more work ready so I can add to my titles. I started July 2012 and every month I'm increasing sales. I have 8 books published and hopefully another 2 by the end of June.

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    1. Congrats Sandy! And best of luck with your self-pubs!

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  16. Thanks SO much for all of this, Marie! You know you are my hero, and have been for a long while now. This data proves that the success isn't something that happens to a tiny handful of independent writers. Everyone can find success! Especially if "success" includes freedom to write what we want and have the control over our work of art, as well as the dollars. Frankly, as much as I want the dollars, the other stuff is equally as appealing!

    This inspires authors like me who are just beginning to look toward self-publishing. Thanks, thanks, and more thanks! And thanks to ALL the authors who shared their info. I can't express how amazing it is to see the honesty and openness that is now infusing our business.

    Power to the Authors!!

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    1. Waving hello, dear friend! Nice to see you here and thank you for the kind words. I can't WAIT to see what you do with your future books. Go get em. Tiger!

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  17. Thanks for putting together and sharing this valuable info.
    I'm going to email my agent and ask her to hold off on the proposal I just sent her.

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    1. No problem! Good luck with your proposal.

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  18. I've been dying to know what's possible and couldn't find out. This tells me exactly what I need to know. Thank you.

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    1. Glad to fill that gap for you, Victoria. Please feel free to join the loop and let us know if you have other questions.

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  19. This is awesome, Marie. Thanks for compiling it. It's great to see a realistic slice of the pie--and the upward swing authors are showing as they get more work out. Going to self-pubbing was very freeing for me. I make or break myself now. I'm not dependent on a publisher's schedule or imprint requirements. I write dark, and that's not something NY cares for very much. Imagine my surprise to discover there really is a market for it!

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    1. That's such a great point, Elaine. We are the captains of our own ships, so we sink or swim based on our performance. It's very freeing! Thanks for participating and for sharing your numbers!

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  20. Kudos to everyone selling hundreds of thousands of books, but *special* kudos to those who are selling far less than that and were still willing to share their numbers. While it might be a little discouraging at first, all of these figures are proof that your book is better off being self-published than sitting in a cyber drawer collecting dust.

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    1. Or even selling to NY for a 2-5k advance...

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    2. Very true, Marcia, and good point, Anthea! Anything is better than either of those scenarios.

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    3. I don't mind selling a 55K word book for 5K and royalties, honestly. It doesn't take long to write, I get great cover art, and incredible editing.
      I love self-pubbing for those books that just didn't fit anywhere else, but I have had a great experience with Love Inspired (Harlequin). AS one of the very few big publishers that accept unagented writers, I was thrilled to get the call from them.

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  21. Marie, thanks so much for doing the research and sharing with one and all. I've been traditionally published but I'm going indie with the third book in my series in a few months. I don't know how Amazon calculates sales so do any of these statistics include the free downloads or are those broken out from paid books.

    An admiring fan and soon-to-be-indie author

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    1. These stats do NOT include freebies. We left them off this time, but we may do another survey that covers the free situation.

      There's a whole other story to be told there. Best of luck with your plans to self-publish.

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  22. I just realized that the numbers I gave you for 2012 sales were low by about 23,000, because I left out my Smashwords figures, which includes iBooks. It's really interesting to see all of these! Thanks for putting it together, Marie.

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    1. Catherine, get thyself directly to Apple, cutting out Smashwords. You're leaving money on the table by not publishing direct to Apple. My numbers are WAY up there this year. Thanks for the updated info!

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  23. Numbers don't lie. It is truly a wide open field for publishing. Congratulations on your success!

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    1. Thank you, Mary Jo, and it is, indeed, the best time ever to be an author!

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  24. This pretty much confirms other things I have read with regards to self-publishing. The successful novels from unknown authors are romance or erotica.

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    1. It would be great to see a survey like this for other genres.

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    2. Agreed! I wonder who could get that list going? Pondering...

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    3. Not ALL the most successful self-pubbed authors are in the romance genre. Most are, yes, but not all. If someone wants to do a survey of other genres, have at it!

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  25. Marie - thanks for putting this together and sharing it in a blog. I'm fairly new to the self publishing but am thrilled to be doing it and will participate the next time you do a blog like this. Congratulations on the success you've enjoyed - well deserved. I'll share your blog with others.

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  26. Marie, you are a gem! Your efforts here may .. no, WILL change the publishing world. I sent my beloved novel to a publisher on February 9th. No word yet, of course. They say the longer they have it, the better it is because we don't receive a prompt rejection. So, if they have my book for three YEARS, does that mean my book is magnificent? haha Now I'm wondering if I even wish any more that they like it and make an offer! I have much to learn, and thank you for your eye-opening survey!

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    1. A longer reply cycle doesn't necessarily mean good news, Janet. I've seen everything from a quick no to a longtime linger no. If they like it and they make an offer, you have to ask yourself if they are offering enough to indicate a commitment to you and your book. A $5,000 advance doesn't indicate a commitment. It indicates a publisher offering an avenue to publication and them hoping you're going to do most of the promo work. Nothing ventured, nothing lost for them. Be very careful saying yes to a low advance.

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  27. Those numbers and being able to finally make money from the books I write is why I self publish. Thank you authors for a candid look at your numbers and thank you Marie for providing it.

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    1. Thanks so much, Paty! So glad to hear you are giving self-pub a whirl!

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  28. Thank you so much to everyone who has provided these figures. I'm 'new' to indie publishing, my first book came out in September 2012 and my second in December. It's truly inspiring to see the wonderful figures everyone has provided and more than anything else, to see the constant increase in numbers.
    It's a great time to be an author.

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    1. Congrats on taking the plunge! Here's to big sales!

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  29. This was fantastic data. Though I'm in the low figures department at the moment, it's heartening to see how well people are doing. There is lots of hope and plenty of scope. Perseverance, as always with the writing game, seems to be the key.
    Thanks for doing this, Marie. YOu are in inspiration!

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    1. Thank you, Liz, and best of luck with your books!

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  30. I've never seen a list like this! And joined the loop. :) I'm a traditionally published author who straddled the line Jan 1st, 2013. Two books out, totally about 8K sold. But mostly, I agree with Lauren Royal: I feel optimistic! I feel like anything can happen and although I'm still under contract, I have more options than I did before.

    Virginia Carmichael
    'All the Blue of Heaven'
    'Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese Grits' (w/a Mary Jane Hathaway)

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    1. I think we all have every reason to feel optimistic these days. Congrats on your early numbers!

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  32. "Since self-publishing, I have paid more in federal income taxes than I made in 10 years of New York publishing 10 titles." —Cheryl Bolen, author of English-set historicals and romantic suspense

    This quote really hits home, because I'm in the middle of doing my taxes right now and am paying the IRS more this year than the advance I received for my first traditional two-book deal back in 2005. All thanks to self-publishing. 2012 was an amazing year.

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    1. I feel you on that! I paid the IRS twice my former annual income for ONE quarter--the last quarter in 2012, and I didn't make chump change in the day job. It's crazy. I never imagined writing checks like that. I wish they weren't going to the IRS, but the checks are better than jail. LOL. Glad your 2012 was great.

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  33. Thanks Marie for putting this together. An editing friend of mine sent it to me to read. She convinced me to self pub my last two books and they are going well. I've earned more in the last 6 weeks with them than the traditional books I have out. Hopefully I can get a back list up and keep watching my income steadily increase.

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    1. Congratulations and best wishes for your backlist books too!

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  34. Thanks so much for polling and sharing this information. It's so inspiring for me!! I have a self-published novella out (to figure out the process) and intend to switch focus on self-publishing rather than traditional publishing.

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    1. Good luck with your books! Sounds like you are off to a good start.

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  35. Thanks to all for sharing this information. I remember Trish McCallan of the Forged series charted her sales on one book she self pubbed and the numbers were amazing.

    Thanks Marie as well

    Reese

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  36. Wow, Marie, this is the most interesting reading I've seen in a long while (even if I feel like I'm standing in public in my underwear). Thanks! BTW, you're my new idol. I wanna be Marie.

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    1. Thanks, Cheryl! I loved your tax quote. Very well stated! Appreciate your participation!

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  37. Fascinating stuff. As a reader, not author, it's a bit depressing to think that favorite authors weren't making much off my paperback purchases.

    As an example, I bought all of Lauren Royal's MMPKs and was saddened when no new ones appeared. Glad to know that self-pubbing that back catalog is working well and it will hopefully lead something new :D

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    1. I don't think readers have had any idea how tough it was for most authors to eek out a living in this business before the last two or three years. It's eye-opening, isn't it? Happier authors mean more happy books for readers. :-)

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  38. I published eight 99 cent speculative fiction short stories in 2012 with negligible sales (maybe 30 total?). Then I wrote a fan fiction SF story based on Hugh Howey's popular "Wool" series ("The Last Prayer" - http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BXSG6LK?tag=lpsweblforblo-20 ) and have been selling about 20 copies a day since late March, which puts me in the Top 20 Kindle SF short story category. That's about $7 a day; so far this month I've made over $100. So that's cool.

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    1. I'm not a big proponent of fan fiction, so I'll have to take your word for it.

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    2. In general, I would agree that fan fic doesn't often elicit, hmm, the best of writing. ;) But Howey's "Wool" series (you mentioned it above, that's why I commented originally) generated such a strong interest in "silo" life that spin-off stories seem to be popular right now. (You don't have take my word for it, btw, just visit the Kindle Short Story category and there are 4 or 5 of us in the Top 20, which works out to 20-50 sales for each of us every day.)

      But what's cool about this whole new era of fan fic writing is that Hugh has allowed/encouraged writers to play in his playground. In other words, the handful of us who are attempting this are taking the original seriously and doing our best to publish quality stories. So far so good, I think. If you want a free copy of my story, let me know. I've had other reviewers say the same thing about fan fic and seemed to enjoy my particular ride in Howey's world.

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  39. This is all really interesting to read. I'm just finishing up my first draft of my first full length romance and have full intention to e-publish it myself and this is a real kick in the butt to keep working hard.

    Plus, makes me feel even better to know that I'm supporting my favorite authors by buying their e-books!

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  41. This is amazing info! I'm really energized by this, thank you so much.

    Congrats on your success, by the way!

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  42. Thanks Marie. This really gives me hope. I'm most of the way through the first draft of my first book and I will definitely be indie-publishing it.

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  43. I loved this.

    I wonder: could you do something similar with authors who, although are not native, write in English? Please?

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  44. To Marie and everyone who responded with sales figures, thank you SO much for sharing your knowledge and success. Inspirational for those of us still writing, writing, writing to get the first book in best possible shape to publish.
    Cate

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  45. Say, you got a nice blog article.Thanks Again. Much obliged.

    publishing your own book

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  46. Great list. Makes me want to go through all my Kindle Excel spreadsheets and actually add up how many books I've sold. To be continued...

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  47. I see an interesting trend. The more books you have available, the more books you sell overall. Great post!

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  50. thank for you share. it's very useful for me.
    Regards

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