It’s almost the end of March, and I promised everyone following my self-publishing saga an update on how the month went.

Frankly, it surpassed all my expectations.

As of today, 5:00 p.m., 3/24, I have sold over 10,000 books in March. Those are paid copies, not free downloads. Free, I’ve seen north of 60K this month. One way to view it is a 20% ultimate ratio between paid and free – maybe a little higher, as I still have till the end of the month to see all the sales on the titles I went free with this month.

That’s a lot of books.

++++++++++++++++++++++

NEWS: An interview with author Felicia Rodgers and yours truly on The Voynich Cypher.

UPDATE: New guest blog at Manic Readers on writing The Voynich Cypher. A good one.

++++++++++++++++++++++

Why the big jump from January and February’s 3000 books per month? One reason is that on March 17, I released The Voynich Cypher, which sold over 3,000 copies in the first three days, and to date, has sold within kissing distance of 4000 copies. That was unexpected, and looks good to continue, if not strengthen moving into April. Feedback has been positive, so it looks to become one of my most popular titles. My personal feeling is that it could be my breakthrough book, but who the F knows anymore? Let’s just say it’s looking good so far.

I had a body blow, too, though. Zero Sum disappeared from Amazon for 24 hours, with no explanation, about a week ago, midway into a promotional push. Just vanished. The resulting loss of about 70 sales during that period was painful, but more painful was the drop in rank from 1480 to 3500. The momentum I’d built on it came to a crashing halt, through no fault of mine. There was never any explanation of what happened. To call that frustrating is to understate it in the extreme. It hasn’t recovered, which makes sense, as below #2000 rank it gets recommended based on the algorithms, but above that number it doesn’t.

This underscores that we indie authors are creatures of Amazon, whether we like it or not. They give, and can take away. Like a deity, they can be mercurial, or accidentally cause large, unintended consequences – perhaps those numbers don’t seem like the end of the world, but when one considers the additional incremental decreased sales (25 a day versus 70) it starts looking like hundreds of books. Ouch.

Still, all in all, I can’t complain, and am very fortunate that readers like my work enough to catapult my books to well over 10,000 books sold this month, so far. I would guess sales will ultimately wind up being more like 11K to 12K by the end of the month, but one never knows. Even if we pull out the 4000 Voynichs, that means that my existing titles jumped from 3000 to 7000-8000 by month’s end. My hunch is that I’m getting better visibility over time, and word of mouth is slowly spreading – remember that 99.99% of all readers have never heard of me. My job over the next few years is to change that, to the extent that it’s possible.

Loans increased to over a thousand, as of this writing. That number isn’t counted in my above 10K – those aren’t technically sales. But they do throw some cash to the bottom line, and I’m happy to report I won’t run out of tequila or diesel fuel this month. The number is actually lower than it would be, as I’ve had several books expire from KDP Select and haven’t re-upped them. King, Delphi, Angel, Night, all are out of the program, with only Voynich, Geronimo, Zero Sum, Fatal and Gazillions remaining in. ZS will exit next week at some point, and Fatal in a couple of weeks; then it will be down to only three in the program.

So that’s the roundup. I will do a year-end summary for those playing along at home, and while there are no guarantees, I think it’s safe to assume that barring a disaster, sales for the year could exceed 100K sold. I could probably double or triple that number by moving a few titles to .99, but I don’t want to do so. I believe the work is under-valued at a buck a book, and I won’t sell a title for that. I’d rather give ’em away for free. Which is what I continue to do on Night of the Assassin, and The Delphi Chronicle Book 1. Although I am considering ending those free promotions in June or July, writing a bit more content for Night, and making it a paid title as well. I’ll be releasing the sequel to King of Swords, for which Night is the prequel, in late April – Revenge of the Assassin – so it might make sense to take Night paid at that point, as it starts to look like a real series then. I already have the idea for the next one – Return of the Assassin – so that’s a strategic play. Return will probably be my next book, while my head’s still in that groove.

Here’s the takeaway for indie authors:

1) I began doing this in June, 2011. I made $16.87 that first month. Sales exploded to $80 by August – after three months of nonstop marketing, writing, and releasing 2 more titles. It took till December to make $1460 that month, by which point I had released twelve titles, and promoted tirelessly. Now, ten months after my first book, Fatal Exchange, went live, things are moving. Obviously, it takes time, and hard work, and good quality product.

2) It is possible to make good money as a self-pubbed author – way more than I’d be making if I was trad pubbed with those kinds of sales numbers. So the landscape has changed. Obviously, if I sold millions via a good tradpub deal, that would eclipse my results to date, but nobody’s knocking with that deal, so it’s a moot point. As it is, I’m seeing roughly double income from what I’d see trad-pubbed per unit. That’s significant, and there’s no agent taking 15%.

3) Part of the secret, at least for me, has been building a substantial backlist to promote. So if you are writing, write more. More good books is like fishing – more lines in the water to snag the passing schools.

4) Write most of the time. I write about 12 hrs a day, and tweet and facebook maybe two to three. Be prepared to work hard for many months, or years. I still do, and plan to, as I understand that one good month does not a career make. Neither does one good year. That’s just how it is.

5) Treat your publishing like a business. That means invest in editing, proofreading and copy editing, as well as professional covers. Be sensitive to what’s working, and what isn’t. Be willing to adjust your prices to meet the market – this isn’t about ego, it’s about selling books. As an example, I believe Voynich is a $6+ book, but I have it priced at $3.33. Why? I want maximum readership and a relatively low barrier to entry. The price will increase over time, as it has with King of Swords, which is selling briskly at $5, but to maintain max sales at a fair return for the first phase of the Voynich Cypher launch, I slashed the price and have kept it slashed. And I’ve done one facelift on all my fiction covers since last year, and am in the midst of a second phase of improvement – it’s a visceral world, so putting forth something visually appealing is worth spending time and money on. On the editing front, I’ve added a copy editor and a proofreader to my normal editor, so three sets of eyes checking for errors. I still get them, but far fewer. In other words, I do what the trad pub houses do – I invest in quality control so my brand has integrity and consistent appeal.

Thanks to all the readers who are enjoying my books. It’s inspiring to see so many downloading and reading, and mostly, liking. A few hate me, but as always, they can bite me before returning to their apartment in their mom’s garage, or dressing their 14 cats in Christmas outfits, or waiting in sleeping bags for the next Twilight movie release. I’m not writing for them. I’m writing for those who get it. If you’re reading this blog, that is probably you.

 

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Comments

  1. Sat 24th Mar 2012 at 9:15 pm

    Serious congratulations are in order. You should really be proud of yourself. This is quite an achievement. Also, I’d like to thank you for the detailed breakdown of how you did it, and what you’re doing to ensure that you keep doing it.
    Now you finally have money to start that clown college you’ve always dreamed of. And when they graduate, you’ll shoot them, one by one, as they come out the door.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 24th Mar 2012 at 9:19 pm

      I was actually envisioning an alligator pond for them, but hey, tomato, tomahto…

      Thanks for the congrats. It’s all a bit surrealistic. Maybe I’m just drunk, and misreading the Amazon report. That’s always a strong possibility…

      Reply
  2. Sat 24th Mar 2012 at 9:15 pm

    Congratulations, Mr. Blake. It’s nice to see hard work rewarded. Enjoy!

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 24th Mar 2012 at 9:18 pm

      At some point I’ll actually have time to enjoy it. Not quite yet. Still a lot of writing and promoting to do…

      But thanks for the warm wishes.

      Reply
  3. Sat 24th Mar 2012 at 9:52 pm

    Terrific! I’m chained to the “day job”, so unfortunately, I can’t write as much as I’d like, but someday…stories like yours are very encouraging!

    Reply
  4. yoon
    Sat 24th Mar 2012 at 10:06 pm

    Congratulations. That’s all kinds of awesome.

    Butting in on the discussion amongst writers, wouldn’t it be better to keep one or two books free all the time, not only on Amazon and/or B&N but widely available? It reminded me of the article on Paulo Coelho’s stance on piracy and Neil Gaiman’s interview. I think they are going a little too far advocating piracy, but still they seem to have a very good reason to do so. Just a thought.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 24th Mar 2012 at 10:10 pm

      That’s what I’ve been doing so far. Maybe I’ll keep Delphi book 1 free for the duration, or write something else that’s more designed as a stand alone free read. I personally believe it is a good strategy. Obviously, it’s worked pretty well for me so far. I think that until several million people are familiar with your work, your job is to get it broader visibility, and the best way I know to do that is by giving it away.

      Reply
  5. Sun 25th Mar 2012 at 11:02 am

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Russell, and congratulations on your success. Your attitude, determination and work ethic remind me of me, long ago in my oil business.

    Cheers, Steve Douglass

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 25th Mar 2012 at 12:10 pm

      Thanks. I think most successful businesses have an element in common. The leader sees possibility where others don’t, and creates a plan to get his objective accomplished, whatever it takes. I fully understand this is an almost impossible business to succeed in. I get that the odds are miniscule that I’ll make it. But I have crafted a strategy to give it my best shot, and structured things so that even if I fail by trad-pub standards, I can have a win by my standards. Trad pub houses are looking for authors who can sell millions of books. The problem they have is that they don’t have a good success rate – I read somewhere that 94% of their releases fail to earn out the advance. Put another way, they have a 6% history of picking winners. Random chance is 50/50. What does that tell you? I probably will never get to the point where I’m selling a million books. I understand that. But my business plan is to make a nice living selling a reasonable number of books. If one goes huge, fabulous. But that’s a lottery ticket. I want an annuity, a business that is sustainable, can go 20 years, and is fun. This is that business. So far so good. But I will say that I will stop at nothing, and am willing to work every waking moment to make it successful, with no excuses or distractions – something many can’t do because of their circumstance. I’m lucky to be able to do so.

      And the harder I work, the luckier I get. Funny, that.

      Reply
  6. Mon 26th Mar 2012 at 12:50 am

    >>>And the harder I work, the luckier I get. Funny, that.

    And you are one hard worker, Russ. Good for you, you deserve success. Just put up a review on Amazon a few minutes ago for The Geronimo Breach…will do the same on Goodreads. Keep writing!

    Reply
  7. Travass Nortje
    Mon 26th Mar 2012 at 6:52 am

    Good Day Russell,

    I came across your book when downloading off the Amazon site for Kindle…Lucky for me you had some free books on offer which I happily downloaded. I am now thoroughly enjoying them. I am about half way through King of Swords having read the Geronimo Breach before that…although not as technical as some other authors who write in the spy/action genre, I find your writing totally believable and to use the age old cliche “a true page turner”….

    Keep up the superb work…lovely to see a self made author holding his head up amongst those with the backing of book deals and agents.

    Regards

    Travass

    p.s do you envision yourself as the El Rey of the book world ha ha ha

    Reply
  8. Tue 27th Mar 2012 at 3:10 am

    Saludos, Mr. Russell Blake,

    Morning greetings! Learned of your acclaim via my beloved writing friend! Would love to have you guest blog at my spot on Blogger.

    Am here to learn and grown as an independently published author!

    Congrats on your phenom success and meteoric acclaim to come!

    Paz y bendiciones,

    Claudia

    Reply
  9. Wed 28th Mar 2012 at 1:34 am

    Congratulations are definitely in order!!!

    Reply
  10. Wed 28th Mar 2012 at 3:04 pm

    Many hearty congratulations to you! I am a new author and it’s inspiring to read success stories. I know not every author is a success, and it’s definitely not an overnight process. I appreciate you laying it out this way. And the ending had me laughing out loud. May your star continue rising.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 28th Mar 2012 at 4:23 pm

      Well thank you, Kay. Appreciate the words of support. My hope is that any success I have will inspire other authors to keep on keeping on, and prove that you can come from nowhere and make it on your merits. But I’ve got a long way to go. This is the second inning, or the end of the first. Games are won and lost each and every inning, so best to keep an eye on the horizon even while celebrating the small victories along the way.

      Reply
  11. Travass Nortje
    Thu 29th Mar 2012 at 10:03 am

    Oi you Tequila swilling Shakespeare !!!

    No response to my earlier post means one of two things..either you didn’t read it…(I’ll have to say you did given you have a certain vanity about you)…. Or…you didn’t care for the content..(the most probable of the two)…what ever the case, I would appreciate it if you shake your spear at all your fans who take the time to look you up on the net, find your blog page, write encouraging words and also sing your praises to fellow book worms…..

    other than your slight misdemeanor…your writing has become ever more exciting now that I know more about you..it adds a new dimension to read the book of someone who you can chat with online..even if it is a one sided conversation at that !!!

    On that note, fill the glass with some of mexico’s finest and bottoms up !!

    ciao Amigo (?)

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 29th Mar 2012 at 1:55 pm

      Sorry. Been a super busy few days. I just now read it. Glad you enjoy the scribblings. I try not to get too technical in the books because I find those kinds of thrillers less appealing to my personal taste, and I find that it often doesn’t help the pacing to read two paragraphs of specs on the night scope or the assault rifle in play. It’s a rifle. Shoots bullets. A night scope. You can see at night. And so on.

      King is one of my personal favorites, along with Voynich (mainly because Voynich is my top seller – I love you Voynich…mwah…). Be sure to let me know what you think, and thanks for the warm wishes.

      Reply
  12. Thu 29th Mar 2012 at 1:11 pm

    Love to see those numbers! While mine are climbing much slower than your own, they are still climbing, and I count that that as a success! Heres to you, and another glass full of diesel and a tank full of whisky.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 29th Mar 2012 at 1:50 pm

      Thanks Jamie. Hope you do well with your book!

      Reply
  13. Sat 31st Mar 2012 at 3:17 am

    That’s fantastic! Well done. I can only dream of achieving numbers like that in the next 10 years I think! I just don’t have the time to write that you did… sad, but I’m not going to let it stop me. Thank you for providing us all with this information as its very encouraging (if also a cause of jealousy)! Cheers,

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 31st Mar 2012 at 12:27 pm

      Thanks Mat. I was debating publishing my results, because it can come off as either whining or bragging, depending upon how they look. But in the end, it seemed in keeping with my philosophy to just put them out there for the world to see. I hope to encourage others. That’s a large part of the point, and also underscore that I may just know what I’m talking about when I do blogs about craft or self-publishing – especially my stance on the importance of editing and pro cover design…

      Reply
  14. Jen
    Sun 08th Apr 2012 at 9:55 am

    Russell, thanks so much for sharing these figures, most encouraging for those of us who are experiencing some success with sales but need to know what to do next. 12 hours writing a day … wow!

    Reply
  15. Mon 09th Apr 2012 at 12:20 am

    Thanks for this post. It’s good to hear from people that have successfully paved the way.

    Reply
  16. Thu 19th Apr 2012 at 6:52 am

    Great to have found you Russell, you’ve done an awesome job of something that so many are looking to repeat, myself included. I’m still in the early stages of my new career and I’m stunned at the rate you publish high quality work. I’ve just reached my first 1000th sale and I’m getting through about 400 per month now after trying out the KDP promo select. I now understand how the numbers work and it makes sense about the Amazon algorithms.
    I think you’re the inspiration I’d love to be for others, and so I’m renewing my efforts to just that. I’ll be tweeting about you to increase your audience.
    Good luck with it all and I’ll be following your next words of wisdom.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 19th Apr 2012 at 9:38 am

      Thanks Miles. Not so sure about me being an inspiration, as a cautionary tale, but hey, tomato tomahhhto. Good luck with your efforts.

      Reply
  17. Tue 11th Sep 2012 at 5:45 pm

    Congratulations! You give hope to the rest of us. One question: I’ve observed that the self-published writers who are making a good living seem to sell what the industry somewhat snootily calls “genre” books: thrillers, mysteries, romance, sci-fi. Do you know of any authors in other areas who finding some success? Literary fiction? Humor? Memoir?

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 11th Sep 2012 at 6:39 pm

      Nope. Seems like the self-pub market is a genre market if you’re interested in making a living. Then again, how many humor, literary fiction or memoir trad pub authors sell well? Probably a very low percentage, I’d guess.

      Reply
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