Jun 052016

Accountant2Recently the people from Author Earnings have come with their fascinating May 2016 report in which they went further than ever to uncover author earnings and in particular the earnings of Indie authors.

Their extensive research let them to conclude that Indies don’t have to be bestsellers to make a living and that quite a few Indie authors make a decent living without ever having been on a bestseller list.
This is good news for all Indies, as this means that even with less sales, they still should be able to make some money.

In response to the Author Earnings report, Joanna Penn (self-publishing guru) wrote a candid and revealing blogpost about her own earnings over the last year. She’s not one of the bestselling authors, but has some series of fiction books going, in addition to a number of books about self-publishing.
She did very well last year and recognised that this came about because she has consistently worked very hard in the last six years, which shows that self-publishing really is a marathon and not a sprint!

When I read Joanna’s post, I became curious about how the numbers would add up for myself. I have written five non-fiction books so far, three of them which are still regular sellers. Nothing shocking. I sell just over one book a day, but still.
And in the light that I am working hard on a new fiction cosy mystery series, which will be published in December, I thought it would be interesting to have some sort of benchmark, to see if having fiction as well as non-fiction books out there helps sales.

It didn’t take me very long to tally up the numbers. Luckily I do keep some sort of administration.
In the Netherlands the financial year is also the calendar year, so these are my sales figures over the year 2015, from January – December 2015.

My total book sales income was €849 (about £665 and $584). This is before tax, so I have had to hand over 40% of that to the Dutch Tax Office.

My total book sales volume was 456 (418 ebooks, 38 paperbacks).

My ebooks range in price from $0.99 – $3.99, my paperbacks are between $7.99 and $14.99.

Breakdown by vendor
I am not a fan of Amazon’s exclusivity (as in KDP Select) and therefore sell my books on a number of different websites. Nonetheless, most of my sales still come via Amazon. Most of the Createspace paperback sales also run via Amazon.
Bol.com is a popular Dutch webshop where my Dutch translation is for sale.

pie-chart percantage by vendor

Breakdown by format
It is a well-known fact that in de self-publishing world most of the sales are for ebooks. Joanna’s figures show this, as do mine.
It is also a well-known fact that traditional publishers claim that ‘ebooks are on their return’, which is simply not true if you take the sales of Indies into account (which they don’t). This has been clear from the Author Earnings reports since they started putting them out and in particular in their latest May Report (btw, recommended reading for every Indie!).
I also sell far more ebooks than paperbacks, as the pie chart shows.

pi-chart percentage by format

Breakdown by country
Four of my books are written in English, and one is a Dutch translation. It’s therefore interesting to find out where my books are sold.
I have looked through my sales figures for the above vendors and came to the following numbers. The sales in the Netherlands all were for my Dutch books and in no other country was my Dutch book sold.
The Other heading comprises a number of European countries, like France, Spain and Italy, where a few of my books were sold. Others also comprises of the ‘expanded distribution’ sales via Createspace, which could be sales in the UK, but perhaps also sales in Europe. There’s no way of knowing.
I find it interesting that most of my books are sold in the United States. I wonder what my cosy mystery series is going to do, as that plays in England.

pie-chart books by country

As I said, I’m not a fan of Select. I publish directly via Amazon KDP (not Select!) and Createspace. I’m distributed to the other vendors via Smashwords, and this includes the Dutch Bol.com. I could go direct on Bol.com, but then I would end up with only 10% of the royalties, whereas Smashwords gives my 60%.

I must admit that I haven’t done much marketing for the three books that I still sell. The three books are for quite a specific audience (lovers of ships and lovers of travelling by cargo ship) and it is very difficult to reach them. I have tried this in the past, but in general it came to nothing. I only had a distinct spike in sales in 2012 when it was 100 years since the Titanic sank and there was a larger general interest in ships.
For this reason I also think the use of advertising is not very viable. The Return of Interest simply wouldn’t be there. I also wouldn’t know where to advertise to find my target audience for these three books.
My sales primarily come via the ‘also boughts’ ribbon on Amazon and readers who search for books about ships.

Conclusions and decisions for 2016
I have been selling my five books for a number of years now. I started in 2007 with one book and by 2012, I had five. The first two books I wrote were only published in paperback and are not suitable to be published as ebooks. Those two books are sold out.
My last three books have been selling together since 2012 (the Titanic year) and I know that ever since I am selling a little less each year.
I might not earn much on my book sales anymore, but there was a year that for six months I actually was able to give myself a little bit of a wage. Not anymore, but at least I am still able to pay two bills with my monthly income from books.

Of course I hope my sales numbers will go up after I publish Book 1 of my cosy mystery series in December. But I have been hanging about in the self-publishing world long enough to know that series usually don’t take off until there are four or five books published.
This is where the marathon comes in again. I simply have to keep writing. And as I am having a lot of fun writing my new fiction series, I will definitely continue to do that.
Perhaps in the future I will even write another non-fiction book. Who knows?

I am planning an active marketing campaign for my cosy mystery series, which has already started. Book 1 of the Jacob Hick Murder Mysteries, Don’t Feed the Rat!, is now available for preorder on Kobo, Barnes & Noble and iBooks.

I am looking forward to the coming few years. Even if the sales of my cosy mysteries don’t start off, I will still be happy that I wrote the series. As an Indie you never know what might happen and I will keep working hard and be as professional about writing and publishing as I can.


Picture via subscription to iClipart