I told myself a week ago that I should do a numbers and facts post for the one year anniversary of self-publishing A Gift of Ghosts; how many copies sold, how much earned, best day, success of giveaways, that kind of thing.
Have I mentioned yet that I’m sleeping a lot these days? Yeah, I knew I had. Anyway, writing that post kept seeming like a lot of work. Really, a lot of work. Amazon does nice little Excel spreadsheets that you can download every month, but it’s probably been three or four months since I’ve bothered and even though it’s just a click, putting them all together and totaling all the numbers…well, it feels like kind of a lot of work.
(Side note: anti-depressants would probably be good for me. Caffeine is not cutting it. And no, Suzanne, I have not gotten R a passport. I feel guilty about it every day, though, which should count for something.)
This morning I woke up and thought, “Today’s the day, one year, I’m going to do that post, just as soon as I write 1000 words on Time.”
Twelve hours later, I have 400 new words on Time. That does not include the 81-word paragraph that I wrote ten different ways. If I included all of those words, I would easily have my thousand words, but since I cut most of them eventually, I can’t.
So no book numbers–well, a few approximate numbers. I don’t know precisely how many copies I’ve sold or given away or how much money I’ve made, because to figure out would require math. Lots of math. And I don’t have the energy. But I do know that I have sold more than 3700 copies, given away somewhere in the range of 45,000 and made over $9000. I spent $50 on CreateSpace’s extended distribution (for both books), probably about $50 on paper copies to give away (not to reviewers, just to friends and family), and $20 on artwork for covers, although $10 of that was for the cover of A Gift of Time, which I haven’t even finished writing yet.
Economically speaking, self-publishing was undoubtedly the best investment I’ve ever made. If I was being purely economical, I’d have to calculate a value for my time, of course, but I wrote the books for fun and not because I ever thought I’d make money from them, so I didn’t punch a time card and don’t really have a sensible way of measuring dollars per hour. I should probably start trying to track hours, though, because it would be interesting to know if I ever start earning more than minimum wage on writing. At the moment, hmm…well, I might have. I didn’t have a lot of days like today when I was writing Ghosts, so I very well might have made more than minimum wage on that one. Thought, probably not yet. And Time, ha. It’s like a sinkhole of hours. But moving on…
Emotionally speaking, it’s been truly different than I expected it to be. My plan was then–and still is, really–to write a million words and then decide if I truly want to try to be a professional writer. I worked in publishing so I have no illusions: writing is a grueling way to make a living. A nice hobby, but a painful career.
Posting Ghosts was a way to make it easy for the people who knew me to read it. Well, and for them to buy me a cup of coffee. It was Christmas and I was an unemployed graduate student with a fondness for Starbucks gingerbread lattes, so telling my dad and my brother and my sister and my closest friends to buy my book/me a cup of coffee seemed fitting. (Posting Thought, on the other hand, was meeting a commitment I made in the back of Ghosts–I probably won’t be doing that again.)
And Ghosts–well, I love it. I love Akira. I love Zane. I love Dillon, I love Rose. (Oh my, do I love Rose! She is, at the moment, one very disgruntled angel. But I digress.) Honestly, though, I never expected other people to love it, too. Akira is anxious. And cautious. And casual about sex. And only very, very reluctantly heroic. Zane — well, he’s a hero who didn’t even manage to save the heroine’s life. (Although maybe he did, one could definitely argue that the CPR keeps her alive until Natalya shows up.)
As it turns out, I was wrong, and that has been such an unexpected pleasure for me. I was braced for the mean reviews, for the people who would not appreciate my geeky heroine or my slacker hero, who would criticize my commas and question my pacing. I told myself not to worry about them, people have different tastes, etc. But I was not remotely prepared for how much the nice reviews would make me melt or how I would savor them. “Well-researched” left me floating on air (thank you for noticing!), “delightful” is a hit of bliss on a gray day, “wish I could visit the town” makes me wish we could live there together. Nice reviews are like stars in a night sky, little dots of light in an otherwise endless darkness. Okay, maybe that’s a little hyperbolic. Still, as of today, Ghosts has 52 five-star reviews, and 21 four-stars, Thought has 17 five-stars and 9 fours, and I treasure each and every one. They make me feel like the world has more potential friends in it than I would have ever imagined.
So…enough sappiness…on the one year anniversary of publishing Ghosts, I can say a few things. 1) It hasn’t changed my life and there is no overnight success story or million dollar publishing deal here. 2) It has enormously exceeded my expectations, both financially and critically. 3) I’m glad I did it.
To you who are reading this, if you’re a fellow writer, I don’t have any secrets. “Write the book, let it go, write the next one” is the advice I’m following and it seems to be working pretty well. If you’re a reader, thank you so much for sharing your free time with my world and I hope I can keep entertaining you. And if you’re a real-life friend, then your name is Suzanne and I’m sorry about the passport thing. You might need to call R and get him to start nagging, because I’m just not managing to get it done on my own.
Hi Sarah, I love your work and hope you finish the next novel – Time. If you have achieved a novel a year, that sounds like you are doing pretty well to me.
I also love your work. I devoured both books so far and will do so with the third.When I'm at a point where I have work ready enough, I may follow your example in the self e-pubbing thing. Sounds like it has been good for you.
Ah, I love you, Ms Wendy. And you know, looking over Nos. 1, 2, and 3, the latter two are the important ones. And maybe the first one will hit, too. Over almost 40 years it has for G-man a couple of times (well, not a million). You've got another 39 years to play with before you should start to worry about that.
Thank you! In 2011, I wrote about 250K words including all of A Gift of Ghosts. 2012 has been more like 80K, not including the ones in Time that I write and re-write endlessly. But I do plan to persist. Writing is a really fun hobby. Even when it's hard.
I think it probably depends on your goals. Most of the people who are having huge success with self-publishing these days were traditionally published first, and many of the people who are finding success with self-publishing are using it to find traditional publishers (ie Amanda Hocking, but there are others, too). It's tough to say what publishing is going to be like a couple years from now, but if you're trying to make it a full-time career, I think there's an argument to be made that working with a publisher is positive, for lots of reasons (editing, market perspective, sales reach, promotion, catalogs, etc). But if your goal is simply to make it easier to share your work with others and you're not hoping to get rich, then self-publishing is terrific. I think many people who are self-publishing are frustrated because they're spending loads of time and energy trying to sell, and selling books is, generally speaking, really hard work. But for me, yes, it's been great. And thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed them.
Ha, it'd be so funny if I hit it big forty years from now. I think I probably wouldn't care much by then, but maybe R will have kids who would. And really, I suspect No. 1 would have been a disaster for my life and maybe R's, too. I'm okay without it. I'd rather be a quirky secret that a few people love than the author everyone has to read so they can talk about how terrible the books are. (Yes, I do sort of feel sorry for EL James!)