This entire post is going to be about self-publishing, including specific data on book sales and ad prices, so if that doesn’t interest you… well, you’ve been warned!
So, Grace preorders… meh. I sold 207 copies in pre-order, I believe, which is a very nice number by some standards — certainly by the standard of the Me of seven years ago, who thought selling 100 copies in a year would be a feat — but not a number that would ever impress a publisher. (Not that I need to impress a publisher, it’s just a standard I’m setting for the purposes of this post.)
The details: I announced the book on my blog and Facebook and sold about 30 copies. I think 34 was the actual number before I did anything else. Thank you, oh magical 34. You’re my favorites. 🙂
After that, I sent an email to my mailing list. I have a list of about 1200 people, all of whom signed up on my website. There are no names on that list that didn’t actively come to my site and click on my link. I’ve done no giveaways with other people or surveys or list exchanges or anything like that. I know people with much, much bigger lists (like, um, every indie author who puts a little work into it), but I really wanted my mailing list to only include people who truly wanted to know when my next book was being released.
My pre-order email had an open rate of 30% and a click rate of 8%, which are better than average numbers for the industry. Still, the industry average click rate is 3%, so my theoretically engaged readers were not so much better that limiting my list makes any sense at all. A bigger list should have sold more books, even if the recipients were “less engaged.” I should probably try to be more engaging, though. 🙂
But if I assume that all the people who clicked actually bought the book (probably not a safe assumption), I might have made 96 sales from my mailing list.
I also ran a Bookbub pre-order alert. That seemed like a great thing — I paid them $76 or so, and they emailed 3600 of the people who follow me on Bookbub. But I think maybe Bookbub readers are people looking for sales, because twenty-four hours after the pre-order alert ran, I’d only picked up 19 additional preorders. Those would have been very expensive sales: I lost money on all of them obviously, since I don’t earn $4/book. Or course, there should be caveats to that — maybe some people bought later, maybe some people waited to buy, maybe they’ll recognize the book at a later date from that email and click on it next time… but basically, those were some expensive sales.
I also ran a Facebook ad, so my post about the release would actually reach all of the 500+ people who supposedly follow me on FB. FB doesn’t show all posts to all followers: on average, it seems like about 10% or fewer of my FB followers see a post unless some of those people “engage” with it, ie share, comment, or like. The more people do any of those things, the more people FB shows the post to. It’s their way of algorithmically curating posts so that the ones that interest people rise to the top.
Anyway, I spent $28 to “sponsor a post” ie, run an ad, and according to FB, reached 600-some people, with 121 “post engagements.” I scheduled it to run over the course of the ten days leading up to Grace‘s release, so I can’t really say what those engagements translated to in sales. But if we subtract sales made before I ran the ad (safe bet) and the 19 sales from the day after the BookBub pre-order email, I might have sold 60 copies or so via that ad. That suggests those sales cost me around .50/book. That does not seem unreasonable.
On release day, I sent out another email to my list. The open rate went up, to 40%, the click rate went down. I’m going to assume that’s because some of the people who opened the email had already purchased the book and had no need to click-through. They just wanted to know what I said. I hope that’s it, anyway! Bookbub also sent out another email, this one free, to my 4700 followers there. Amazon sent out an email to anyone who follows me there, but they don’t tell me anything about those numbers. Plus, of course, Amazon would have started showing Grace in the Also Boughts, as appropriate.
Over the course of the next few days, Grace sold another 147 copies on Amazon, plus another 6 copies on Kobo, another 37 copies on B&N, and I think 19 on iTunes.
(Also, digression. Holy cow — B&N! What beautiful sales reports! The numbers were a surprise, but the charts and reports were even more so — so pretty! so easy to use! so straightforward! Whoever is designing their interface gets a platinum star from me.)
Back to business: if my math is right, that’s another 209 copies sold, bringing my first four days total to (I think) 416 copies. These are many thousands shy of being best-seller numbers, but for an indie author who hasn’t published a book in 4 years, they are not bad, IMO.
On Saturday, I ran a Bookbub ad for A Gift of Ghosts. Why not Grace, you ask? Well, because Grace is the 4th book in a series and who wants to start a series at Book 4? I figured the reminder of Ghosts might be enough to get readers to look and see if there was a new book in the series — I certainly do that when I see an ad for a book I’m familiar with. Also, Bookbub prices ads by the cost of the book: Ghosts is free, so the ad cost me $266, rather than the $532 a .99 book would have cost. Also, they probably wouldn’t have accepted an ad for a brand-new book — not enough reviews, and I wouldn’t have wanted to put Grace on sale, anyway.
I’ve since sold another 131 copies of Grace on Amazon, 7 on Kobo and 18 on B&N. (I can’t separate out sales by day on iTunes so put all iTunes sales to date in the first four day numbers.) So my first week of sales for Grace is 572 units, if I can math. I’m reasonably pleased with that — sure, ten times that number would be much better, for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that I do like eating and my current life choices are less than sensible. But still, there are 572 people in the world who wanted to read what I wrote and that’s a nice feeling.
And the Bookbub ad… well, this happened.
It pleased me. 🙂
That said, I think the number of free downloads must have really dropped in the past four years, because the first time I ran a BookBub ad I got far more downloads but I really don’t think Ghosts got as high on the free list as it did on Saturday. I can’t actually say for sure, because even though I’m sure I noticed how high it got back then, I didn’t write about it on my blog and so it might as well not exist in my memory. I probably put it on FB, but I haven’t figured out how to search for a post from 2014 on FB without an insane amount of scrolling that my casual curiosity does not require.
But a number-to-number comparison suggests fewer free downloads, too — I had 36K downloads in 2014 compared to about 17K this week. I’m fine with that — Ghosts has been published for almost seven years now, so 17K downloads feels like a very solid number to me. But I do suspect that fewer people are trying free books. That makes sense — those heavy readers are probably all using Kindle Unlimited, where all the books feel free.
Still, free as a promo strategy is still effective. On average, I sell about 15 units a day. For an author who doesn’t promote, barely does social media, and hasn’t been producing much, that’s a good number, I think. I consider myself really lucky that somehow people are still stumbling across my books and that some readers of Ghosts go on to read the others. But in the last three days, I’ve sold 492 units on Amazon — a tenfold increase. Those numbers are dropping, of course — it was 180 on Saturday, 191 on Sunday, 121 today. But it means the cost of those sales is currently averaging around .50/book. That’s a price I can live with.
So, yes, this was more than anyone would possibly want to know. 🙂 I’m sure you’ve all gone to sleep by now. But I was frustrated that I didn’t keep some detailed records of what I did and how it worked back in 2014 (the last time I released a book and spent some money on marketing), so I wanted to save this for my own sake. And really, share it for any other self-published authors who might be interested. I’m obviously not one of those best-selling authors raking in a six-figure income every month and releasing a book every six weeks, but I do still believe, despite my relative level of flakiness (aka, living a most excellent life, which does not include 70-hour work weeks spent in front of the computer), that I will be able to earn a real living at this someday. I hope so, anyway!