How I sold 8000 books in my first year – and why it shouldn’t matter to you


bsA year ago today, I published on Amazon my first novel, “The Shadow of Black Wings” – book 1 of a planned long-running saga, “The Year of the Dragon“. Since then, I published a few more books – three more books of the series, a short story collection, a fantasy novella, and a bundle of the first four volumes of “The Year…” combined.

For the first three months I haven’t even sold a hundred copies; but eventually the trickle turned into a river. I have now sold 8000 copies of all my books put together; a vast majority on Amazon Kindle, about a hundred so far on Kobo and in paperback. That’s sold – not given away – and not for peanuts, either; my average royalty on these was about $2 per book, pre-tax. You can do the math yourselves.

Now, in terms of commercial results, this isn’t an indie success story people like to read about: not only I’m not the next Hugh Howey, or J.A. Konrath, I’m not even in the same league as the dozens of romance or thriller authors who consistently sell hundreds of their books every week. I am, however, quite satisfied with what I had achieved so far. This is, after all, my first year of publishing; these are my very first books written in English; the genre I write is not a bestseller genre – if you look at the Asian Fantasy lists on Amazon, my books consistently occupy the first places both in free and paid categories: there just doesn’t seem to be that many more readers interested in these kinds of stories. You could say I broke one of the main rules of making money off self-publishing: “choose a popular genre”.

8,000 copies sold is more than enough to pay the proverbial bills; it is an extra income that enabled me to embark on the summer journey around the UK coast that I’ve always wanted to make; it is an extra boost of confidence which enables me to continue writing more books (whenever I have the time :). It is, finally, a lot more than I had ever expected to sell when I started this journey, shortly after settling down in the UK.

If you are a starting self-published writer, you are probably constantly looking for advice on how to sell more books. I don’t know whether, in a world where some authors sell millions, a meagre 8,000 sales can interest anyone, but if it does, then sure, I can tell you how did it. But only if you promise me to read this post to the end, to find out why it doesn’t matter what I, or anyone else did to sell their books.

In the beginning, I tried many things; anything that anyone advised, I did it. I bought books, I read blogs, I studied business cases. Social media. Paid ads. Free ads. Blog posts. Blog tours. Guest posts. Short stories. Wattpad. Figment. Goodreads. Shelfari. You name it – I was there. The one thing I never tried was the physical part of book selling: I never did any signings, never pushed my paperbacks into bookstores. That was something I knew from the start I would not be any good at.

Almost none of it mattered, in the end. In hindsight, if I look back at what I’m certain I did right over the last year, it can be summed in the following 5 points:

  1. Write a series of good books.
  2. Prepare professional publishing package (formatting, cover, editing).
  3. Push the first book out with free and paid promos. Make sure you get what you paid for.
  4. Keep writing and releasing books, pushing each release forward with a set of promotions.
  5. Profit.



If I felt like creating some kind of rule out of it, I would call it “The V3 method“. The V3 was a Nazi super-cannon based on the principle of multiple charges: each missile was propelled along the way in the barrel with explosives in set intervals; the result was an artillery piece that could shoot at London from over the Channel.

I could do that; I could probably write a book about it, and try to hawk my “V3 method” as the “Only True Way” to sell books. But that wouldn’t feel right.

Because what I did worked only for me. And I have no way of knowing for certain whether it would work for anyone else, or indeed whether it will continue to work for me; this is, after all, a very quickly changing business. My books may stop selling at any moment, and I will remain just as clueless as I was a year ago.

Things work differently for different people. For some, using Facebook or Twitter will be a path to success. For a chosen few, it will be a place like Wattpad or Figment where they may find their audience. Many authors swear by Goodreads. Personally, neither of these did anything for me, and I count my time spent there as an author and publisher as very much wasted. I guess I just don’t have the right kind of personality. But that doesn’t mean I would go around dismissing any of these channels of publicity; obviously it works for some. And conversely, my way of doing things may not suit others. Perhaps not everyone feels comfortable with releasing a book every few months, or with scouring the internet for the best places to buy advertising from.

There is lately much talk of survivor’s bias in self-publishing, and I couldn’t agree with this assessment more. As with every new, emerging business, the tales of true success are still few and far between. The statistical sample is far too little to make any assumptions. Nobody knows for certain what works, and what doesn’t. I had offered you my opinion of what worked for my sales – but I could be wrong; it may have been something completely different that I did at some point, and now don’t even remember. Or – very likely – it may have been pure chance. In fact, pure chance may still account for all the success stories out there, including all the great ones; we may try to use hindsight to figure out what went right or wrong, but the truth is, we just don’t know.

So while it may sound depressing and underwhelming for somebody who’s looking for a quick way to win in life’s lottery, there is a positive lesson to learn here: do whatever you feel like doing. Stick to what you do best; if something just doesn’t seem to be working out for you, don’t push it. It may never work out, and you’ll only be wasting time. But, if your book is out, and you’re prepared to spend some time and effort to present it to the world in a professional manner – I’m pretty confident it will start selling in the end.

And when it does, I’m pretty sure deep down you’ll be as clueless as to how it happened as we all are.

 

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Hot New Releases :)


I woke up today to some awesome news: Amazon.com, in its wisdom, decided to put both my new books on the Hot New Releases list! They are at the moment #1 and #2 in Alternative History, respectively, ahead of, among others, new Harry Turtledove’s and Naomi Novik’s releases.

This is pretty awesome.

PS: “The Rising Tide” and the deluxe 1-4 bundle will soon be available in paperback, too.

hotnew

In other news…


Advent Calendar notwithstanding, there are some news I have to share with you. I’m having the best week ever on Amazon, and here are some bragging screenshots 🙂

Breaking through to the Epic Fantasy Top 100
Breaking through to the Epic Fantasy Top 100
Top 5 Alternate History
Top 5 Alternate History
Author #109 in Science Fiction. So close to getting the number by my name!
Author #109 in Science Fiction. So close to getting the number by my name!

Not bad, not bad at all 🙂

Update:
US AH4 EF61

Update 2:

#97 Science-Fiction Author on Kindle
#97 Science-Fiction Author on Kindle

KDP Select – a week later. The price of one’s soul.


It’s been a week since my free promotion. And what a week it’s been! It’s time for the first summary of my life after KDP Select.

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Thousands of free units downloaded over two days
  • #1 on UK Historical Fantasy Free Best Seller list
  • #1 on US Historical Fantasy Free Best Seller list
  • #2 on US Young Adult Free Best Seller list (only kept off the first place by Artemis Fowl)
  • #5 on US Fantasy Free Best Seller list
  • #112 on US Free Best Seller list overall
  • Sold more books in two days than in an entire month previous
  • #47 on US Historical Fantasy Paid Best Seller list
  • #17 on UK Historical Fantasy Paid Best Seller list
  • A full week on paid Best Seller lists

More detailed summary (with charts!) :

Continue reading “KDP Select – a week later. The price of one’s soul.”