Ashes: Six Months Later

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May 292013

Ashes of Alour-Tan has now been out for just over six months. When I launched the book, I made the decision to pay little-to-no attention to my sales figures for that span of time, at which point I would look at the numbers and decide what they might indicate for future strategy.

A couple of notes before we dig in:

1. I am very happy with Ashes’ performance. As a debut, self-published novel my expectations for sales were quite low and it exceeded them handily. I would have been happy with one sale and made substantially more than that.

2. Ashes’ performance to date means little in the grand scheme of my long-term writing goals. Every self-publishing success story has the common thread of an author with many titles for their readers and I am not aware of any success story that centers on a single breakout title. Until I have at least five titles out and available, I don’t anticipate significantly better sales figures than Ashes garnered, and I am quite content with that. Of course, I do hope that each subsequent release will show progress.

3. I did very little in the way of promotion for Ashes. I announced it here on the blog, on Facebook, on Twitter, and on Tumblr, on a handful of non-writing forums where I also added a link to the book to my forum signature, created author pages on Amazon and Goodreads, and…that’s it. I did not submit it to any book blogs, writing/author/self-publishing communities, or any other major venue for promotion. This minimal promotion decision was deliberate.

Right, let’s get to the numbers.

All told, to date, Ashes “sold” 85 copies across all formats. 25 of these “sales” were part of the pre-Christmas promotion on Smashwords, wherein Ashes was free for a weekend, meaning 60 royalty-bearing sales.

Kindle was the most popular platform, with 33 sales. CreateSpace and physical Amazon sales were almost tied with royalty-bearing Smashwords sales (10, 8, and 9 respectively).

Here’s a breakdown of royalty income across each platform:

Platform        Sales  $/unit   Royalty   Total Income
Kindle 35 US      2    $ 7.99    35.0%      $  5.60
Kindle 70 US     29    $ 7.99    69.2%      $160.37
Kindle 70 UK      2    £ 4.98    69.1%      $ 10.40 (£6.88)
CreateSpace      10    $14.99    46.3%      $ 69.40
Amazon (Phys)     8    $14.99    26.3%      $ 31.52
Smashwords        9    $ 7.99    80.9%      $ 58.14
Total            60    $10.09    55.4%      $335.43

The 35% US actually represents sales in India.

Ashes collected three reviews on Amazon (two 4-star reviews and one 5-star review) and two ratings on Goodreads (both 5-star, but one of them was me!).

Here’s a breakdown of sales by month:

Platform      2012-11   2012-12   2013-01   2013-02   2013-03  2013-04
Kindle          17        13         0         2         1        0
Smashwords       5         2         2         0         0        0
CreateSpace      2         8         0         0         0        0
Amazon (Phys)    0         3         2         1         0        2
Month Total     24        26         4         3         1        2 

Notable mention here: Ashes was out for all of five days in November.


Unsurprisingly, the biggest sales windows were around the book’s release, after which sales fell off quite a bit. Also unsurprisingly, Kindle was the best-selling platform. The majority of sales came through the Amazon US store, which is again unsurprising as it’s A) the biggest of the Amazon stores and B) where most of my promotion hit (being a dude from the US and advertising largely to people who are connected to me by location in some way or another).

I have some misgivings about the price points I chose, informed though they were by prevailing market trends. While I don’t want to undervalue my own work, I also want to price my work at a reasonable, attractive point for potential readers. If that means making a little less per sale, but gaining a significant number of additional sales in the trade, that’s worthwhile. $7.99 is a competitive price point with major eBook releases coming out of big publishers, but is significantly higher than the price-point most common for self-published authors. On the flip side, I don’t feel like most self-published authors think through the business side of their writing enough; those that do frequently espouse higher price-points. It’s something I’ll continue to ruminate on.

While I don’t really want to devote a lot of time to advertising or promotion, I do think I should do more promotion in the future. As outlined above, I deliberately did very little for Ashes, to see what kind of reach it would have. Submitting to book blogs and communities of readers (and, perhaps, writers!) is an obvious venue. I have very little working knowledge of what’s available, though I understand the answer is “a lot.” A large factor in my reason for going so small with promoting Ashes was Konrath’s note about advertising and TV appearances making very little difference to his sales figures. While I still believe him there, I am coming to see advertising and promotion as different things. Running an ad in a magazine falls under the aegis of “advertising,” while submitting a book to a blog falls under “promotion.” I suppose one might distinguish the two as “people who want to promote your work” vs. “people who will take your money to promote your work.”

I am a little saddened by the lack of reviews, though not by the reviews Ashes has received (for which I’m quite grateful!). One widely-accepted truism of self-publishing is that the more reviews a work has, the more sales it generates. I suspect that many of the people who purchased Ashes rarely rate the products they purchase, let alone take the time to write reviews. I know I rarely do! I’ve tried to lead by example and take the time to write a review on Goodreads for pretty much (yeah, yeah, I know) every book I read. Of course, to really put my money where my mouth is, I should cross-post these to Amazon…

In contrast to the relative lack of reviews, I’ve received a lot of in-person feedback on the book and one trend I find gratifying is that all of the criticisms are issues that I already identified and knew about. That tells me that I’m at least sufficiently cognizant of the flaws in my work and know what to watch for in the future rather than stumbling around blindly. I continue to appreciate having majored in Art, because of all the things to have learned in college the ability to take a scathing critique was probably the most valuable. That’s not to say any of the critiques of Ashes have been scathing — far from it — but I see so many aspiring authors crumble and break under even well-intended criticism that seems to me little more than useful advice. So, thanks Northeastern Art Department (students and faculty both)!

There you have it. Ashes’ first half-year performance in the field and how I feel about it. I’m proud of the work and pleased as punch by its performance so far. I have a long way to go, but no longer a road than I planned (so far), and am looking forward to the journey!

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