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3 Important Things I’ve Learned After Publishing My First Novel

Posted in amazon sales rank, Getting published, Independent Publishing, Publishing, publishing with a small press, publishing your first book, self publishing, and The debut novel

01-Beyond-the-Starline-800 Cover reveal and PromotionalMy debut novel was published on 14th of February, 2016. That’s three sweet weeks ago at the time of writing.

It was published first in paperback on Amazon and then rolled out as a pre-order ebook to Amazon, Kobo, Nook, iBooks, Smashwords, Scribd and others.

The paperback is registered and cataloged with major distributors worldwide, including Nielsen, Gardners, Bertram, and Ingram. You can get it from Waterstones in the UK and it’s going to be available from Barnes & Noble in the US at some point soon. You can also ask your library to order a copy for you.

So, it’s out there. And what’s happened in those first three weeks? You know, I’m not sure! Let me explain.

First up, the data for distribution and sales doesn’t appear instantly, but trickles through drip by drop. Some channels can take literally months to process sales records. Other channels are quicker. However, I have some data, and I’m happy to share that with you.

Why not? It’s just the facts. I’ve nothing to hide and it will interest you. Just bear in mind that at this early stage it’s a very incomplete data set. It’s certainly far too early to discuss trends or come to any hard-and-fast conclusions. Caveats aside, then, what have we got?

The main source is from Amazon (UK/US/DE have seen sales). So what happened at Amazon so far? Well, it’s been a roller-coaster ride. Up and down like the proverbial yo-yo.

But before we go into that, I have sold some books. According to my business plan, I shouldn’t have expected to sell a single one at this stage, still less hit the bestseller charts and garner a couple of top-notch reviews. But we’ll get back to that.

I have sold paperback books mostly, and a couple of ebooks have been pre-ordered. And the interesting thing is that the word on Indie Street is clear: you cannot sell Middle Grade/early YA paperback books if you are independently published.

Apparently the word on the street is wrong.

I think I’ve sold fewer than 100 books so far (discounting a couple purchased by supportive friends and family). I think that’s not bad. Not bad at all for a complete unknown with no fancy marketing team. Or any marketing team, come to that.

I’m not blowing my own trumpet here, just sharing my surprise. In the end, the deciding factor will be whether or not the book continues to sell steadily in the long term. Many a book, Indie or otherwise, has had a happy launch only to sink without trace. I’m quite realistic about the possibilities.There’s no joy in selling a couple of handfuls of books in the first few weeks and then nothing for the rest of your life.

This is what happened. In the first few days, there were no sales. Then I think a couple of family members bought a copy each and so I had a sales ranking – something like 400,000 or so! A figure like that means little. But in the next few days it started to sell to folks I didn’t know. It’s been selling one or two copies most days. And then this happened:

BSBTS

That’s my book, down there on the bottom right. It had an overall sales rank of about 45,000 at this point (which isn’t bad, given there are over 3 million books listed on Amazon). But for a core sub-category (Young Adult Steampunk) it had hit the top ten. Only just, in at number 9, but there.

Now this is a tiny niche-within-a-niche so not the making of millionaires. Even so, it represented increased visibility to the avid readers in that niche. And what it was doing in that niche anyway is anyone’s guess. All the metadata points it to Middle Grade Adventure Books (if you search that on Amazon, it comes up on the first page). But there was a sudden flurry of book sales on the back of that. Two days later, the situation looked like this:

Best5

It had climbed up to number 5 in the bestseller list for that niche. The most observant among you will also notice it now has a few of those lovely stars, too. 4.5 star rating from two reviews. One came from someone on the mailing list who’d received a free review copy – and actually honored the agreement with his honest opinion. The other was a verified purchase. Sales continued to trickle in and the next few days saw my book climb to the number 3 spot:

#3Well, that looked mighty pretty to me! At this point the overall ranking was 20,000 in books. This started to represent real, daily sales. I was blown away. Remember I had happily expected to sell nothing at all until the third book was out and I’d had chance to create a bit of buzz.

But would it continue?

No. It wouldn’t. Enter the Yo-yo Effect…

The book held its own in the top ten for a while, then suddenly it started to fall and finally dropped down to number 15 in the list. Still not bad, but it was also showing an overall ranking of 103,000. That’s typically interpreted as one book or less per day. But still.

Then it bumped back up to number five, then down to 10, up to 8, down to 25 and seems, at the time of writing, to have settled into position 15 for the last few days.

I fully expect that, unless something very extraordinary and unexpected happens, it will now continue to decline. It may even vanish altogether. At least for a while. As a few more reviews trickle in and as chance discoverers decide to give it a shot, it may pick up again on and off. That is until the second book comes out and then the third. Each new book helps the discover-ability of the others in the online market ecology. Prolific writers are 99% more likely to achieve financial success in the longer term (assuming they’ve covered all the bases; a good, well-written book not being the least of those). The link between publishing lots and any measure of success is the topic of the next post.

But for now, I’m happy. I’m encouraged that there’s something there. The book’s going to do okay in the long term, I’m sure of it. And I never expected to sell any at this stage.

So, what are the three things I’ve learned thus far?

  1.  It’s always worth doing your research, but there’s really no way to properly predict what will happen to a book once it’s published.
  2. Don’t be distracted from your main strategy because you either get a better launch than you’d thought, or because it seems to have flopped. Watch with interest, gather data for later analysis, and keep on with your wider publishing strategy. It’s a long term thing.
  3. Even if it looks good at the outset, for chrissakes don’t give up the day job just yet!

However, I have a long term business plan and an overall strategy and from that perspective it’s all good and it’s all going according to plan. And part of that plan is a fairly punishing publishing schedule and multiple lines of attack.

But more about that next time, when we’ll find out just what Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Stephen King, and James Patterson have in common. And we’ll learn from that. Well, I did.

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01-Beyond-the-Starline-3D-BookCover-transparent_background02-The-Island-of-Birds-3D-BookCover-transparent_background
If you’d rather buy them or just prefer a paperback, the first in the series, Beyond the Starline, is here: Amazon UK   Amazon US   Waterstones  Barnes & Noble  Smashwords  Kobo or ask for it in your library or local independent bookstore and they’ll order it for you.

If you have any questions or comments, I’ll be more than happy to help if I can, or just connect and share experiences, thoughts, feelings and ideas.

Leave a comment and share the post on your social media if you’ve found this interesting. That is absolutely the loveliest way to say thank you to a blogger!

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Image credits: all images (apart from the book covers of my novels) are in the Public Domain and were sourced via the Creative Commons. Click on the image to reveal the name of the artist and the work in the address bar.

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10 Comments

  1. Thank you Austin for a great post. Highly motivational 🙂 I’m thrilled your book is doing well and I look forward to reading it! Good luck to you both 😉

    March 6, 2016
    |Reply
    • Austin
      Austin

      Astrid, hello! Thank you so much. It’s fun, isn’t it? Even if, as I suggest here, it may not be immediately sustainable. Your book must be out very soon, I think. And you published with a small press?

      March 6, 2016
      |Reply
  2. Only just came across this post, a few weeks late, but really useful for me as I approach the release of my own middle grades book in a few weeks. Particularly intrigued by the paperback first then ebook move. What was the thinking behind that? Thanks for the post Austin!

    April 12, 2016
    |Reply
    • austin.hackney@hotmail.co.uk
      [email protected]

      Hi Barford,

      Thanks for your comment – and good luck with your launch. I’d be very interested to know what your strategy is.

      Why paperback first and ebook after? Because all my research suggests that practically no-one buys MG ebooks. The reasons for that are:

      1. Most readers in that age group don’t own the appropriate devices on which to read them. They overwhelmingly enjoy the tactile experience of reading a physical book.

      2. At that age they are still accessing their books via parents, teachers and librarians. Your audience might be the kids, but your marketing must be directed towards the people who actually buy the books. Most adults who actively encourage reading in their children are wary and reluctant to introduce them too soon to digitech reading. They still believe in “proper books” for kids.

      3. MG is THE TOUGHEST market to crack as an Indie author. In fact, no-one has yet done it. It’s commercial suicide. When you’re aiming to achieve the highly improbable, you want to stack all the tiny odds you can in your favor. Paperbacks with nice paper and beautiful interior formatting become essential, rather than optional, for this market.

      4. In reference to number 3 above, libraries play a huge part in connecting kids to books. Libraries want physical books in their kids sections. End of.

      I’ve done virtually no marketing. Sales, after an initial peak of interest – it’s known as “the cliff” – (when Amazon give you a month’s grace with some internal promo to see if you’ll take off, but drop you if you don’t skyrocket immediately) have slumped.

      But I didn’t expect to sell anything or get any reviews at all, so I’ve out done my plan at this stage!

      The next step is to get the other two books out (Summer and Autumn releases), then actively get them into libraries, submit to Waterstones, and forget about it!

      To be honest, I don’t expect to make any money at all out of my Dark Sea Trilogy. Book One certainly hasn’t covered the cost of writing and producing it as yet – it was only published two months ago. But I never expected it to.

      My expectation from the outset with this project was to break even within a year or two of publishing the last book in the series.

      My motivation was to set myself a serious challenge (the impossible) as I knew it would push me to ride a steep learning curve and rapidly develop an arsenal of skills and experience that could then be deployed to immediate effect on the next, more marketable, projects I have lined up for the end of this year and going forward. I set aside the money it would cost to do this and accepted at the outset that I might lose every penny. I’m good with that. I consider it a reasonable price for an excellent education.

      I hope you’re not expecting to pay the bills with your Middle Grade series. But if you are, I’d love to know what your plan is. And if you do, I’d love to know how you did it!

      Just remember that the bestselling indie pubbed MG books on Amazon have sales ranks in the 100,000+ which is less than a book a day, probably less than a book a week.

      Let me know your thoughts!

      April 12, 2016
      |Reply
  3. Thanks Austin. I assumed that was the rationale – i.e. Few kids, if any, buy ebooks. As to your query – my strategy is evolving is probably the most honest answer. I’m not planning for MG to pay the bills (at least not for a long time) and am planning books in other categories. Like you, though, I’m seeing just the writing and publishing as a serious challenge and the most important thing is just getting the book launched. We’ll then see what happens after that. I’ll keep you posted though.

    April 13, 2016
    |Reply
    • austin.hackney@hotmail.co.uk
      [email protected]

      Hi Barford,

      Thanks for that. I’m glad that’s your perspective! Do keep in touch and feed back on your experience as you go. One of the greatest strengths of the Indie publishing community is that it is exactly that: a community of trail-blazers marked out by a great willingness to honestly pool experience, tips, failures, successes and other data to the benefit of all.

      I look forward to reading and reviewing your book when it comes out. Do you have a clear date set for release yet?

      April 14, 2016
      |Reply
      • I’m aiming for beginning of May. As this is my first time and I don’t quite know the intricacies of the process (and how long it should take), I haven’t advertised an exact date yet.

        April 14, 2016
        |Reply
        • austin.hackney@hotmail.co.uk
          [email protected]

          Hi Barford,

          How long it will take will depend on whether you are publishing ‘wide’ – namely, aiming to get your book in both paperback and ebook editions into all possible bookstores – or if you are concentrating on the Amazonian Behemoth. With the apparent temptations of the Kindle Unlimited program many authors are giving Amazon exclusivity over their works. I think that’s a mistake (and it’s also against the political grain for me) but the reasons for that can perhaps best be elucidated in a subsequent post.

          It’s a wise move not to give out a specific date. I have stated that book two in my current trilogy will be released in the Summer, for example. That gives me plenty of leeway to deal with any last minute hiccups before i’m committed.

          I’m guessing by the title and feel of the book that it’s going to be relatively short? I’m wondering just what price tag you’re thinking of giving it?

          April 15, 2016
          |Reply
          • Still finalising all the considerations above to be honest, so cannot give you an answer at the moment.

            April 15, 2016
  4. austin.hackney@hotmail.co.uk
    [email protected]

    Hi Barford,

    Fair shout. We shall see! In any case, I wish you all the best and I do hope you’ll share your experiences. If there’s ever anything I can do to help along the way, all you have to do is ask. If I can’t help you myself, I may well be able to signpost you to someone who can.

    Talking of which, how are you getting on with Glendon?

    April 16, 2016
    |Reply

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